Ahmadinejad tirade won\’t deter Obama

Obama said after holding talks with King Abdullah II of Jordan that the Iranian president\’s fiery rhetoric at a United Nations racism conference was “not helpful, it is harmful”.

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“I think it actually hurts Iran\’s position in the world, but we are going to continue to take an approach that tough, direct diplomacy has to be pursued without taking a whole host of options off of the table.”

Obama also specifically singled out Iran\’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the most important centre of power in Iran, in a possible attempt to downplay Ahmadinejad\’s capacity to disrupt US engagement plans.

“We will continue to pursue the possibility of improved relations and a resolution to some of the critical issues in which there have been differences, particularly around the nuclear issue,” Obama said.

Obama had been asked whether the jailing of US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi and Ahmadinejad\’s furious rhetoric against US ally Israel could derail his effort to pursue engagement with the fierce US foe.

The international racism conference in Geneva, which the United States boycotted, fell into disarray after Ahmadinejad\’s verbal onslaught against Israel triggered a mass walkout and furious rebukes from Western capitals.

Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, criticised the creation of a “totally racist government in occupied Palestine” in 1948, calling it “the most cruel and repressive racist regime”.

“The (UN) Security Council helped stabilise this occupation regime and supported it for the past 60 years, giving them a free hand to continue their crimes,” he said.

Even before the speech, the diplomatic fallout from Ahmadinejad\’s presence in Geneva was spreading.

Israel recalled its ambassador in protest at the Swiss president\’s decision to meet the Iranian leader – Ahmadinejad\’s first formal meeting with a Western head of state since taking

office in 2005.

Four European nations were among a group of nine countries – including the United States and Australia – which boycotted the meeting before it started.

The remaining 23 EU countries that did send delegations to the event had warned they would walk out if Ahmadinejad made anti-Semitic remarks.