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Why the UN racism conference 'finished' early

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GENEVA – After Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s barrage Monday against Israel threatened to derail the global antiracism conference, UN officials decided to act quickly.

The conference was teetering on the verge of collapse. By Sunday, nine Western member-states had announced a boycott. On Monday, 22 European countries walked out as Mr. Ahmadinejad launched a verbal attack on Israel as “cruel and racist.”

That’s why UN officials jumped right to the main event: the final declaration. It was adopted late Tuesday, three days earlier than scheduled.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called the document’s early adoption “great news,” saying it “reinvigorates the commitment” of governmental anti-racism efforts.

Typically, such documents are negotiated right into the 11th hour. That’s why it was supposed to be released April 24. The basic 16-page agreement had already been hammered out last Friday. Releasing it at the end of the five-day meeting was “just in case the main committee needed that much time – just in case various debates reopened or questions were raised,” Ms. Pillay told reporters. “None of that happened.”

The Ahmadinejad speech “set a very negative tone and created a very negative atmosphere,” says Slovak diplomat Drahoslav Stefanek, whose delegation was among those that walked out. “So there was a need to calm things down.”

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