Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki accused Israel and the United States on Tuesday of posing the main threats to the security of the Middle East, prompting the U.S. and Israeli delegations to walk out during the speech.
Mottaki told the world's top disarmament forum that Israel was the only country in the region that refuses to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even though he said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last year acknowledged that his country had nuclear weapons — which Olmert denies doing.
A nuclear-armed Israel poses "a uniquely grave threat to regional and international peace and security and requires to be seriously dealt with by the international community taking practical measures," Mottaki told the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland.
Mottaki did not use the word Israel, but referred to the country as "the Zionist regime," which he said had "a long and dark record of crimes and atrocities such as occupation, aggression, militarism, state terrorism, crimes against humanity and apartheid."
Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon said he found the remarks so offensive that he and his delegation walked out during the speech.
"Everybody noticed that we left because we made a small noise, showing everybody that we disagree with his remarks," he said.
They were followed immediately by the U.S. delegation, Levanon said.
"He went too far," Levanon told The Associated Press, adding that it was "a blatant insult" to the conference to stray in such a way from the disarmament issues the body is supposed to consider.
"It seems the Iranians are under international pressure and this is what explains their undiplomatic behavior," Levanon said. "I can only regret such behavior by a county which would like to be a member of the family of nations."
Officials at the U.S. Mission to international bodies in Geneva confirmed that the American delegation also walked out.
"At a time when we're trying to find unity of purpose in the CD (Conference on Disarmament) such outrageous and divisive comments are not useful," said a statement from the mission.
Mottaki noted the growing pressure being exerted on Iran in the U.N. Security Council, with a series of sanctions aimed at forcing the country to suspend uranium enrichment, which Washington and some allies say is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
The U.S. and three European nations moved closer Tuesday to agreement with Russia and China on a package of sanctions against Iran that are not nearly as harsh as Washington and its allies would have liked.
Council diplomats say the six powers — including Britain, France and Germany — have ruled out a ban on international travel by Iranian officials involved in nuclear and missile development. They also are unlikely to ban arms imports or export credit guarantees for companies doing business in Iran.
Diplomats say the new sanctions resolution is expected to include an embargo on arms exports, a ban on government loans to Iran and an asset freeze on more individuals and companies linked to Tehran's nuclear and missile programs.
"It is surprising that while no practical step is taken to contain the real source of nuclear danger in the Middle East, my country is under tremendous pressure to renounce its inalienable right for peaceful use of nuclear energy," Mottaki said.
The other threat to the Middle East comes from the United States, which he said invaded Iraq on the pretext of eliminating weapons of mass destruction and bringing more security to the region.
"After years of searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq it is obvious the preparation for the attack on Iraq was based on false or, in fact, forged information," Mottaki said.
For the rest, he said, "one can easily judge if there is more security or insecurity in the region as the result of such a huge military operation. Those who created such a situation in Iraq cannot disregard their responsibility."
The conference is intended to negotiate disarmament treaties, but deep divisions over what weapons should be tackled next have left it little more than a forum for speeches since it created the nuclear test-ban treaty in 1996.
Meanwhile a diplomatic rift between Tehran and one of the few nations that ever comes to its defense grew Tuesday as the Islamic republic's top nuclear negotiator deplored Russia's decision not ship nuclear fuel to Iran as agreed, a move that delays the start of Iran's first nuclear power plant.
"This (Russian decision) shows that there is no such thing as a guarantee to deliver nuclear fuel," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Ali Larijani as saying Tuesday.
Russia's federal nuclear agency, Rosatom, announced Monday that it would postpone the shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran because Iran had delayed payment for work on the Russian-built power plant outside the southern Iranian city of Bushehr.
Iran rejected the Russian claim, saying it has fulfilled all its financial obligations.