Iran attracted international condemnation yesterday for hosting a conference of Holocaust deniers which was described by Tony Blair as "shocking beyond belief".
As the two-day conference in Tehran wound up by forming a "fact-finding" committee into the extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis, Mr Blair accused Iran of posing a "major strategic threat" to the Middle East.
Speaking at his monthly press conference, he said he had been so taken aback by the reports the Iran president had invited a leader of the Ku Klux Klan to the conference that he asked a No 10 aide to check on it, twice. "To go and invite the former head of the Ku Klux Klan to a conference in Tehran which disputes the millions of people who died in the Holocaust ... what further evidence do you need that this regime is extreme?"
The White House also issued a strong condemnation yesterday, describing the conference as "an affront to the entire civilised world as well as to the traditional Iranian values of tolerance and respect". Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, expressed outrage, saying: 'Germany will never accept this." The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said on Monday that the gathering, attended by more than 60 people from 30 countries, was a "sick phenomenon".
The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the closing session, saying: "Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out."
The conference was convened at a delicate moment for Iran in its relations with the West, and makes it even more unlikely that the Bush administration would endorse a recommendation of the Iraq Study Group to engage Iran on ending the Iraqi insurgency.
The UN Security Council is meanwhile considering a new draft resolution that would punish scientists associated with Iran's nuclear and missile programmes with a travel ban and assets freeze. The draft text, which has been modified in the hope of securing Russian backing, calls for a ban on exports to Iran of material and technology that could be used to produce a bomb. The sanctions would be adopted in response to Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which could be used to make fuel for a weapon. Iran says its programme is solely for energy purposes.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisted that differences with the US and Britain over the approach to Iran were purely tactical. "Strategically we're all on the same track. We may be more concerned about Iran than Britain and the United States," he said. "We are vitally interested about the preservation of the non-proliferation regime because we have Iran on our borders. We would be the last country in this world that would want the existence of nuclear arms in Iran."
Mr Blair, who will visit the Middle East this weekend, said: "I look around the region at the moment and everything that Iran is doing is negative. Iran is deliberately causing maximum problems for moderate governments and for ourselves in the region - in Palestine, in Lebanon and in Iraq."
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