Israeli ambassador to Switzerland recalled
Foreign Minister Lieberman orders Israeli envoy in Bern to return to Jerusalem for consultations following Swiss president's meeting with Iranian leader. Move made 'in protest of Switzerland's approach towards a Holocaust denier,' FM's office says. Swiss president: Criticism unjustified
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor clarified that the move was made in protest of Switzerland's approach towards "a Holocaust denier who has spoken more than once about the need to wipe Israel off the map." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was consulted on the move and approved of Lieberman's decision.
Later Monday, the Foreign Ministry also summoned the head of Switzerland's diplomatic mission to Israel, Monika Schmutz-Kirgoz, for an "urgent discussion" to convey Israel's deep displeasure with the meeting Sunday between Ahmadinejad and Merz.
In a radio interview Monday, the Swiss president defended his meeting with Ahmadinejad and said criticism was unjustified.
"Switzerland is neutral and not part of any alliance," Merz said, adding that it is part of his country's national tradition to offer its mediation services.
Merz and Ahmadinejad had dinner together at a Geneva hotel on Sunday evening. The Swiss government said in a statement that the two leaders had met to discuss diplomatic issues, including an eight-year jail sentence for a US-Iranian journalist convicted in Iran of spying.
The meeting focused mainly on "questions related to collaboration in the energy and economic sectors", the statement said.
Ahmadinejad and Merz in Geneva (Photo: AP)
Even before the meeting, state officials in Jerusalem expressed their anger and resentment. "There's no reason in the world for meeting with a Holocaust denier, the president of a country exporting terror, hatred and anti-Semitism," one of the sources said.
"A meeting with Ahmadinejad badly damages the international moral coalition against Iran and serves as a dishonorable move which should never take place. A head of state who has some respect for himself should not shake the hand of the Holocaust denier from Tehran."
Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed Ahmadinejad's participation in the conference at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting Monday, saying that "While we remember the six million (Jews murdered in the Holocaust), a conference will be held in Switzerland allegedly against racism. Its guest of honor is a Holocaust denier who does not conceal his plan to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
"I congratulate the countries which chose to boycott the conference. Contrary to those dark days, today we have a strong Jewish state," he said, adding that "Unfortunately, not everyone has learned the lesson of the Holocaust."
The latest country to pull out of the conference was Poland, joining the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Italy, Germany and Canada. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski informed the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw of his country's decision.
EU spokeswoman Christine Hohmann said Brussels would take part in the conference as an observer in order to make sure no "red lines" are crossed.
Hohmann said the conference's final draft was not ideal, but the result of a compromise, and added that the EU would respond appropriately to any unacceptable statement made during the conference.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that his country would take part in the conference, but that the French representative would walk out "immediately" if the conference turns into a platform for racist comments against Israel.
Reuters, The Associated Press and AFP contributed to this report