Iran General NewsIsrael protests to Switzerland over Iran meeting

Israel protests to Switzerland over Iran meeting

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ImageAP: Israel recalled its ambassador to Switzerland Monday for "consultations" to protest the Swiss president's meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ahead of a U.N.-sponsored racism conference in Geneva.

The Associated Press

By AMY TEIBEL

ImageJERUSALEM (AP) — Israel recalled its ambassador to Switzerland Monday for "consultations" to protest the Swiss president's meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ahead of a U.N.-sponsored racism conference in Geneva.

It also summoned the head of Switzerland's diplomatic mission to Israel, Monika Schmutz-Kirgoz, for an "urgent discussion" to convey Israel's deep displeasure with the meeting Sunday between Ahmadinejad and Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz.

"The meeting between the president of a democratic country with an infamous Holocaust-denier such as the president of Iran, who calls for Israel's destruction, does not mesh with the values that Switzerland represents and that are supposed to be represented at the U.N. conference on racism," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Ahmadinejad has suggested the Holocaust never happened and has called repeatedly for Israel's destruction. He is scheduled to address the conference later Monday, coincidentally as Israel marks its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In a radio interview Monday, the Swiss president defended his meeting with Ahmadinejad and said criticism was unjustified.

"Switzerland is neutral and not part of any alliance," Merz said, adding that it is part of his country's national tradition to offer its mediation services.

Swiss Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nadine Olivieri said Merz "sharply and unmistakably condemned" Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and his remarks on the right of Israel to exist when the two leaders met Sunday evening.

Switzerland represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran since the two countries broke off diplomatic relations in 1980. President Barack Obama said Sunday that Washington would be in contact with Iran about jailed American journalist Roxana Saberi through its Swiss intermediaries.

A Swiss government statement late Sunday said Merz and Ahmadinejad discussed the fate of the 31-year-old dual Iranian-American citizen, who has been sentenced to eight years in prison for allegedly spying for the United States.

Merz said he engaged Ahmadinejad in some frank discussions about the Middle East and human rights in Iran. A government statement said concerns including corporal punishment, juvenile executions and stonings were raised during the 2 1/2-hour meeting.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Ambassador Ilan Elgar has been ordered home for several days.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that while Israel commemorates the 6 million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis, at the conference in Switzerland "the guest of honor is a racist and a Holocaust-denier who doesn't conceal his intention to wipe Israel off the face of this earth."

Israel considers Iran the greatest threat to its survival and has been waging a campaign against its nuclear program. Israel doesn't believe oil-rich Iran's claims that the program is meant to produce electricity and is convinced Tehran intends to build nuclear weapons.

In remarks ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also lauded other countries that also have decided to boycott what he called "this display of hatred." Israel, the U.S. and at least eight other countries are staying away from the meeting.

Israel and the U.S. walked out midway through the U.N.'s 2001 conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, because a draft resolution singled out Israel for criticism and compared Zionism — the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state — to racism. The resolution was not approved.

Critics said that conference mostly ignored other conflicts around the world and focused on Israel.

Countries boycotting Geneva were concerned that the 2009 gathering would be a repeat performance.

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