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Iran president to attend Geneva racism meet

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will attend next week’s United Nations conference on racism in Geneva, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to journalists as he attends an official welcoming ceremony for his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarksyan in Tehran, April 13, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Marie Heuze told a news briefing that Ahmadinejad, who has in the past questioned whether the Holocaust took place, was one of four heads of state who had confirmed they would attend.

Ahmadinejad is due to give a news conference on April 23 at the U.N.’s European headquarters where the conference is being held from April 22-26.

Also present will be Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary- general of the 56-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has sought to have Israeli policy towards Palestinians denounced in the U.N. as racist.

The OIC also initially tried to have “defamation of religion” included as racist behaviour in a final conference declaration, an issue which Western countries say is a bid to limit free speech.

Israel and Canada have said they will not attend the conference which has been called to review the outcome of a U.N. meeting on racism in Durban in 2001.

The United States and Israel walked out of the Durban meeting before it ended, but European and other countries stayed to the end and ensured its final declaration dropped criticism of Israel that Islamic states had sought to include.

The new U.S. Democratic administration of Barack Obama has yet to make up its mind whether to attend next week’s meeting, dubbed Durban II.

Other Western countries are also awaiting the outcome of negotiations in Geneva on the text of the final document. Many argued earlier versions of the final text were totally unacceptable to liberal democracies.

Diplomats say many of the problem phrases -- including “defamation of religion” and any mention of Israel -- have now been removed. But they say the OIC and its allies could try during the meeting to have them restored.

Apart from Iran, the other three countries sending their heads of state to Durban II are East Timor, Togo and Montenegro.

Among countries which have said they will be sending their foreign ministers are Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Norway. The 27-nation European Union has yet to decide on a common position on whether to attend.

Editing by Robert Woodward