GENEVA — Dozens of Western diplomats walked out and a pair of rainbow-wigged protesters threw clown noses at Iran's president Monday when the hard-line leader called Israel the "most cruel and repressive racist regime" at a U.N. conference on racism.
The United States decried the remarks by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as hateful, reinjecting tension into a relationship that had been warming after President Barack Obama sought to engage Iran in talks on its nuclear program and other issues.
Ahmadinejad — the first government official to speak at the weeklong event — delivered a rambling, half-hour speech that was by turns conciliatory and inflammatory. He appealed for global unity in the fight against racism, then said the United States and Europe helped establish Israel after World War II at the expense of Palestinians.
"They resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering," he said.
He blamed the U.S. invasion of Iraq on a Zionist conspiracy.
Jewish groups had lobbied for a boycott of the conference, warning it could descend into anti-Semitism or other anti-Israel rhetoric, which marred the last such conference eight years ago. At least eight nations, included the United States, stayed away.
The meeting turned chaotic almost from the start when the two wigged protesters tossed clown noses at Ahmadinejad as he began his speech with a prayer. A Jewish student group from France said it had been trying to convey "the masquerade that this conference represents."
One of the protesters shouted "You are a racist!" before he and the other demonstrator were removed. Said Ahmadinejad: "I call on all distinguished guests to forgive these ignorant people."
At the first mention of Israel, about 40 diplomats from Britain and France and other European Union countries left the room.