VALLETTA - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tuesday of misusing a UN conference on racism at which he attacked Israel's policy toward the Palestinians as racist.

It is very regretful that the conference was misused by the Iranian president for political purposes, Ban said during an official visit to Malta.

Ahmadinejad used his speech at the conference on racism in Geneva Monday to describe Israel as the most cruel and repressive racist regime because of its treatment of the Palestinians.

His comments prompted a walk-out by some 20 Western delegations and drew criticism from rights groups and Western governments.

Ban also expressed regret that some countries had stayed away from the conference. The United States and Israel led about a dozen nations in boycotting the meeting because of concern that it might become a forum for attacks on the Jewish state.

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 said.

Ahmadinejad was invited to speak first because he was the only head of state at the conference, though invitations had been issued to all heads of state, Ban added.

He said he had no new appointment to meet Ahmadinejad butwould approach Iran and other countries which had issues with the conference to discuss the situation.