Iran accuses Israel of abusing UN interfaith meeting


Speaking on the second day of the meeting, which earlier heard U.S. President George W. Bush call for worldwide religious freedom, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee did not name Israel, but left no doubt what country he had in mind.

"The representative of a regime (whose) short history is marked with … aggression, occupation, assassination, state terrorism and torture against the Palestinian people, under the pretext of a false interpretation of a divine religion, has tried to abuse this meeting for its narrow political purposes," he said.

Khazaee was referring to Israeli President Shimon Peres, who took the rare opportunity of being in the same room as Saudi King Abdullah on Wednesday to praise a Saudi peace initiative that he said brought hope to the Middle East.

"The participation of such a regime not only has no benefit to our common purpose, but, as proved in this very meeting, will give them a chance to try to disrupt the current process to divert our attention from our mandate" to improve dialogue between different religions, Khazaee said.

Iran believes the Jewish state has no right to exist and opposes peace talks. Israel considers Iran a threat to its existence and, along with the United States and other countries, accuses it of developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge.

Khazaee’s speech stood out at the two-day meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, convened at the request of the Saudi monarch, not only because of its accusatory language, but because it failed to praise Abdullah.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal reacted coolly to Peres’ remarks. "The disappointing side of President Peres’ comment is that he chose parts of the Arab peace plan and left other parts untouched," he told reporters.

Earlier Bush, in what was almost certainly his last U.N. address, proclaimed religious freedom as the foundation of a healthy society and defended the U.S. record in protecting Muslims caught up in foreign conflicts.

Religious freedom

The U.N. meeting, attended by leaders and diplomats from some 75 countries, was opened by King Abdullah, who on Wednesday denounced terrorism as the enemy of all religions.

In a closing statement, participants "affirmed their rejection of the use of religion to justify the killing of innocent people and actions of terrorism, violence and coercion." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference that was "a strong message to the world."

Bush, a Methodist who said faith sustained him through his presidency, which ends in January, praised Abdullah for initiating the meeting but also implicitly criticized countries that restrict religious practice. Saudi Arabia forbids public non-Muslim worship.

Noting that the United States had been founded by people fleeing religious persecution, Bush said that "Freedom is God’s gift to every man, woman, and child — and that freedom includes the right of all people to worship as they see fit."

He was speaking a short way from the site of New York’s former World Trade Center, destroyed in 2001 by planes piloted by Islamist al Qaeda militants. Some Muslim critics have called his subsequent "war on terror" a crusade against Islam.

"Our nation has helped defend the religious liberty of others, from liberating the (World War Two) concentration camps of Europe to protecting Muslims in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush said.

"Religious freedom is the foundation of a healthy and hopeful society. We’re not afraid to stand with religious dissidents and believers who practice their faith even where it is unwelcome."


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