U.N. official says U.S. "demonizes" Iranian leader

UNITED NATIONS Tue Mar 17, 2009 7:54pm EDT

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends a meeting with Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (not pictured) in Tehran March 10, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends a meeting with Turkey's President Abdullah Gul (not pictured) in Tehran March 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly president accused the United States on Tuesday of "demonizing" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the latest blast against Washington by the former Nicaraguan official.

"I don't think anyone can doubt that in our part of the world, concretely here ... Ahmadinejad has been demonized," Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann told a news conference.

Ahmadinejad caused outrage in the West by saying in 2005 that the state of Israel should be wiped off the map. He has also questioned the Holocaust and promoted a nuclear program the West suspects aims to produce atomic weapons. Tehran says the program is for peaceful purposes.

D'Escoto said that "the United States has been in the business of the demonization of people from (for)ever," but had "canonized" former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

"And then we hear terrible things about Ahmadinejad," D'Escoto said at the news conference on a recent trip to Syria, Finland, China, Bahrain, Switzerland and Iran to promote a U.N. conference in June on the world financial crisis.

D'Escoto said there had been "a big ado," including protest letters written to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, when he went to a New York meeting attended by Ahmadinejad during the annual General Assembly summit last September. He did not say who had written the letters.

He said the "demonization" contrasted with the "great respect" in which Iran was held by its neighbors for hosting some 3 million refugees from Afghanistan.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations expressed puzzlement at D'Escoto's remarks. "It's hard to make sense of Mr. D'Escoto's increasingly bizarre statements," said spokesman Mark Kornblau.

CRITICISM OF ICC

D'Escoto said he did not support Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel but questioned whether they had been made. "If he said that I think it's lamentable," he said.

D'Escoto was foreign minister of Nicaragua in the 1980s when the left-wing government was fighting an insurgency by U.S.-backed Contra rebels. He has been a harsh critic of Ronald Reagan, who was U.S. president at the time, and of George W. Bush, president from 2001 until January this year.

When he became General Assembly president last September, D'Escoto pledged to set aside former animosities, but has continued to rail against the Bush administration, especially over its 2003 invasion of Iraq. D'Escoto's post has little real power but is high-profile within the United Nations.

D'Escoto has been more favorable to the Obama administration and praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for proposing a conference on Afghanistan to which Iran is expected to be invited.

D'Escoto also criticized as "unfortunate" the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant on March 4 for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in Darfur. He said it would "deepen a perception that international justice is racist."

Saying it was Bush who had first leveled the charge of genocide in Darfur against the Sudanese leadership, he said: "That should tell you quite a bit already. Can you imagine (1920s Chicago gangster) Al Capone calling the police to say that somebody stole milk from the market? It's Al Capone standing for uprightness."

D'Escoto, who has enraged Israel by comparing its policy toward the Palestinians to the former South African apartheid policy of racial segregation, defended the comparison, saying it had also been made by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

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