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Iran: President Launches Fresh Verbal Attack On Israel

President Ahmadinejad speaking at the UN in September (epa) Prague, 14 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has launched another verbal attack on Israel. In a speech to thousands of people today, Ahmadinejad dismissed the Holocaust as a "myth" and reiterated his view that Israel should be relocated out of the Middle East.

Ahmadinejad’s comments echoed his declaration last week that since Europe bears responsibility for the Holocaust, it should provide land to which Israel can be relocated.

"If you [Europe] have committed this serious crime [the Holocaust]," he said, "why should the innocent Palestinian nation pay for this crime?" His remarks came in a speech carried live on national television from the southeastern city of Zahedan.

Ahmadinejad also said, "They [the West] have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions, and the prophets." And he reiterated that Israel should be moved somewhere else.

"If you have committed such a crime, then it will be good if you give a piece of your own soil, a piece of soil in Europe, the United States, Canada, or Alaska to them [Jews] so that they can create a country for themselves," Ahmadinejad said.

Israel, Germany, and the European Union immediately condemned Ahmadinejad’s comments.

"Apart from the fact that what Ahmadinejad is saying is historically not correct, the other issue is that he should pay attention because all these remarks are against Iran’s national interests. " -- Tehran professor

"The combination of a regime [in Iran] with a very radical agenda together with a distorted sense of reality that is clearly indicated by the statements we heard today put together with nuclear weapons, I think that's a combination, a dangerous combination, that no one in the international community can accept," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev told journalists in Jerusalem.

The EU, meanwhile, said the Iranian president’s comments have no place in civilized political debate. "My reaction to what the president of Iran has again said is that these remarks are just quite simply completely unacceptable," European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said in Brussels. "And we feel very strongly that Iran is damaging its own interests with these kind of remarks and that such interventions do nothing to rebuild confidence in Iran’s intentions."

Iran is locked in tense negotiations with Germany, France, and Great Britain, the EU-3, over its nuclear program. The West suspects Iran seeks nuclear weapons. Iran denies this.

German Foreign Minister Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned today that the Iranian leader’s comments put fresh strains on the nuclear talks, which are due to resume this month.

Since his election, Ahmadinejad has launched several verbal attacks on Israel. In October, he said Israel should be "wiped off the map." Last week, he said the Jewish state should be moved to Europe.

As a result, Israel has in recent weeks renewed a call for international action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The United States also says Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric has underscored concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, told RFE/RL that Ahmadinejad is giving countries such as Israel and the United States an excuse to increase their pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program. He added that Ahmadinejad seems to enjoy being in the spotlight.

"The wise people, the scholars and other keep telling him that making such comments is damaging our national interests, especially at a time when the world is watching us because of the nuclear issue. There is enough campaigning by the Americans and Israelis against us, and what Mr. Ahmadinejad is saying goes exactly to their court; it is making the Israelis really happy. Apart from the fact that what Ahmadinejad is saying is historically not correct, the other issue is that he should pay attention because all these remarks are against Iran’s national interests. I think [Ahmadinejad] enjoys the attention he gets from making these comments and unfortunately it seems he doesn’t care much about the consequences of his comments and actions," Zibakalam said.

Mashaollah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent journalist in Tehran, told Radio Farda that by expressing his personal views on Israel, Ahmadinejad is creating an international crisis for the Islamic Republic. "Mr. Ahmadinejad does not differentiate between his position as a citizen -- who can express different views -- and his position as president," she said. "Such comments have never existed in the last 25 years in the media, political organizations, parties, or [political] personalities. Therefore, we can say that these comments are his personal views and practically it has no aim but to create crisis in [Iran’s] international relations."

The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, condemned Ahmadinejad’s comments today, calling them "unacceptable."

(Radio Farda correspondent Ahmad Rafat contributed to this report)

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INTERVIEW: On December 22, 2005, RFE/RL's Radio Farda spoke with FRED ZEIDMAN, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Zeidman commented on Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli comments.


Hear the complete interview (about nine minutes):
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ARCHIVE: For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of Iran, click here.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.