The president of the United Nations General Assembly is expected to attend a dinner in New York organized by five American Christian organizations at which Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be a featured guest.
The G.A. president, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, is a Catholic priest from Nicaragua who is a vocal critic of the United States. He is expected take part in the September 25 dinner, which is being co-hosted by the Iranian mission to the U.N.
D’Escoto’s planned attendance prompted criticism from Jewish quarters.
“It’s a shame,” said Sybil Sanchez, B’nai B’rith International’s director of U.N. affairs. “His participation sends the wrong message about the U.N., and it’s important that fascists like Ahmadinejad receive the message in all forms and ways that their principles are counter to the U.N. charter and values.”
The private dinner is being billed as “an international dialogue between religious leaders and political figures” in a conversation “about the role of religions in tackling global challenges and building peaceful societies.” It is being sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee, the Quaker United Nations Office, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee.
Born in Los Angeles, D’Escoto, 75, became a priest and joined the ranks of the leftist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. He served as foreign minister through the 1980s, a time of acute tensions with Washington. When elected last June to preside for a year over the 192-member strong General Assembly, he blasted the “war of aggressions in Iraq and Afghanistan” in his acceptance speech. His remarks prompted a stern response from Richard Grenell, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., who told reporters at the time that “we have made it clear that these crazy comments are not acceptable.”
Neither the U.S. mission nor D’Escoto’s spokesman returned phone calls seeking comment about D’Escoto’s planned participation in the dinner.
Also scheduled to attend and break the Ramadan fast with Ahmadinejad is former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who presides over the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights.
Ahmadinejad has become a lightning rod for controversy since his election in August 2005, mainly because of his repeated threats against Israel and because of the doubts he has expressed about the veracity of the Holocaust. His past trips to New York during the G.A., including his appearance last year at Columbia University, have prompted heated protest.
As in previous years, Jewish groups have called for demonstrations during his visit to New York this month.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that it “defies belief” that five religious organizations will break bread with Ahmadinejad. Foxman called the planned event “a perversion of the search for peace and an appalling betrayal of religious values.”
Arli Klassen, executive director of Mennonite Central Committee, said that the dinner initiative was meant to further the search for peace by gathering a broad array of religious leaders. She said that Buddhist and Jewish leaders have been invited, but she declined to name them.
A copy of the dinner invitation obtained by the Forward does not provide details beyond naming D’Escoto and Bondevik, and mentions only that “distinguished religious leaders” will participate in the event. The dinner will take place at the Grand Hyatt hotel in midtown Manhattan, close to the U.N.
The meeting will be the fourth between Christian organizations and Iranian religious and political officials, according to Elizabeth Lee, a spokeswoman for the World Council of Churches’ U.N. office.