UN approves communique at troubled race conference
* Diplomats reach consensus agreement on text
* Obama calls Iranian president's comments "appalling"
* Western states chastised for boycotting, leaving meeting
(Recasts with declaration adopted, Obama remarks, background)
By Laura MacInnis GENEVA, April 21 (Reuters) - Delegates at a United Nations conference shunned by the United States adopted on Tuesday an anti-racism declaration as they sought to shake off the impact of a walk-out triggered by remarks by Iran's president.
U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington condemned as "appalling and objectionable" comments by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday calling Israel a "totally racist government," remarks U.N. officials also called "unacceptable". [nWAT011302]
The text adopted on Tuesday, which "reaffirms" a contentious 2001 document that refers six times to Israel and the Middle East, was adopted by consensus and without debate at a public session, well before the end of the week-long meeting. [ID:nLK124699]
"This is very good news indeed," Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Hunan Rights, told a news conference.
On Monday, dozens of delegates left the forum as Ahmadinejad, who has previously raised doubts about the Holocaust -- commemorated by Jews on Monday -- said Israel had been founded "on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the abuse of the question of the Holocaust".
A text of his remarks circulated by by Iran's Geneva mission had him referring to the "ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust", but Ahmadinejad did not use those words.
U.N. officials hope the early endorsement of the text, which was negotiated over months in preparatory talks in Geneva, will return the focus of the conference to issues such as links between poverty and discrimination and ways to prevent xenophobic attacks on foreign workers.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said earlier on Tuesday that approving the text would represent "a defeat for Ahmadinejad", whose remarks a U.N. human rights investigator said were delivered with an intent of "total confrontation."
"It is not a question of different views. It is a question of the animosity in those views," said Asma Jahangir, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told journalists that the conference had moved on from the drama that surrounded Ahmadinejad's appearance on Monday, during which some activists accredited to the forum staged noisy protests.
"It was a very bruising episode yesterday, clearly, but we have to get back to the issues," he said before the declaration was adopted in the Palais des Nations assembly hall.
Obama said on Tuesday he wanted direct diplomacy with Iran but without taking other options off the table.
The United States and Israel led about a dozen nations in boycotting the meeting. The two countries walked out of the last major U.N. race summit in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 after Arab states sought to define Zionism as racist.
While that language was not approved in the declaration adopted there, Obama said on Sunday the new text that "reaffirms" the 2001 document was an unpalatable starting point for fresh talks.
"If you're incorporating a previous conference that we weren't involved with that raised a whole set of objectionable provisions, then we couldn't participate," he said.
Washington had largely sat out negotiations over that text in preparatory meetings in Geneva. Although the European Union did take part, and endorsed the draft as "conference-ready" last week, several EU states said over the weekend they would also boycott the meeting, along with Australia and New Zealand.
Most of the delegates who walked out during the Iranian president's remarks on Monday rejoined the conference after he finished speaking. But the Czech Republic said it would not return, joining the boycott.
Several delegates and human rights groups expressed regret that some countries were boycotting the meeting instead of arguing their position on racism, while Jewish groups praised those who walked out or stayed away.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in Malta on Tuesday: "It is very regretful that the conference was misused by the Iranian president for political purposes.
"Before the speech I had a long bilateral meeting with President Ahmadinejad and urged him to give a balanced and constructive contribution to the conference because he was the only head of state present."
Ban also expressed regret that some countries had stayed away from the conference.
The Vatican stressed the U.N. forum should not be used to target particular states or political postures.
"This does not contribute to dialogue and it provokes an unacceptable atmosphere of conflict," it said in a statement. (For a FACTBOX of reactions to Ahmadinejad, click on [ID:nLK212880]) (Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Laure Bretton and Sophie Hardach in Paris and Silvia Aloisi in Rome; editing by Andrew Roche)
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