Geneva, Switzerland – It’s appropriate that the United Nations has a headquarters here in Geneva. The Swiss are know for their cuckoo clocks, and the UN is known for its cuckoos.

As Day Three concluded at the United Nations Durban Review conference, Iran’s representative, Alireza Moaiyeri, formally objected to the diplomatic dissing of his President at the start of the week, when delegates walked out on the Iranian president’s speech. As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Israel of being a “cruel and repressive racist regime,” representatives from approximately two dozen European nations marched from the Assembly Hall in protest.

More specifically, Iran’s ire was directed at Jonas Gahr, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs who spoke immediately after Ahmadinejad and denounced his hateful rant. Gahr said the messages in Ahmadinejad’s speech amounted to “incitement of hatred, spreading politics of fear and promoting an indiscriminate message of intolerance.” He added that Ahmadinejad’s allegations made Iran “the odd man out.”

“We strongly reject [Gahr’s] unwarranted and unsubstantiated references,” said Iran’s Moaiyeri, and we “consider them as without merit, unacceptable and out of order.” Moaiyeri also questioned “the Norwegian Foreign Minister’s sense of hearing to the applause given to the president by some members of the delegations.”

It’s frightening that such an obtuse and thin-skinned regime is about to acquire nuclear weapons.

The Iranian delegate also attacked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon protesting his “deplorable, irresponsible and unwarranted statements.” Ban issued a statement on Monday after Ahmadinejad spoke which said in part:

“I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian President to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this Conference seeks to achieve…It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian President.”

“Those statements,” said Moaiyeri, “utterly contradict the UN well-established norms and practices to the affect that a civil servant of the United Nations should at all times abide by the principal of impartiality and refrain from making judgmental remarks on the position and statement made the members, let alone a head of state.” He argued that the “dignity of the head of state of a United Nations member should be respected and safeguarded at all times by all member states and in particular by the UN Secretary-General.”

One might argue that Ban did just that. At UN conferences, speakers submit their remarks in advance – as did Ahmadinejad in this case. Delegates, the media, and presumably the Secretary-General – whose response referenced his “earlier meeting” with the Iranian president – had access to the speech before it was delivered. Yet, Ban obediently took his seat in the Assembly Hall right behind Ahmadinejad and listened politely. When the European delegates protested, Ban remained seated and stayed to hear more.

Also on the dais as Ahmadinejad spoke were Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the President of the Conference, Amos Wako, who is Kenya’s Attorney General. According to the Rules of the Conference, “The President…shall have complete control of the proceedings and over the maintenance of order thereat.” Wako, had he chosen, could have insisted on decorum, ruled Ahmadinejad out of order, and prevented him from continuing his speech. A UN official confirmed for me that “it is the prerogative of the chair of any meeting to make a decision to halt a speech.”

Of course, any delegation could have challenged such a decision, but an objection by the chair, or a walkout by Ban, would have been preferable to the stale and dispassionate denunciations routinely issued by UN officials.

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