TEHRAN, Iran — Hard-line lawmakers grilled Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday on Tehran’s official step-back from past policies of denying the Holocaust.
Mohammad Javad Zarif was summoned to parliament and questioned in a session that was broadcast live on state radio on Tuesday.
Comprised of religious figures, former lawmakers and officials as well as some current MPs, the critics were unhappy about Zarif’s more moderate foreign policy, including what they call his “reactionary stance towards the bastard (Israeli) Zionist regime and the Holocaust.”
Zarif said that, as long as he is foreign minister, he will not allow Iran’s reputation to be damaged with statements about “Holocaust denial.”
Zarif fought back against the increasingly scathing criticism from the hardliners, saying his pragmatic approach to diplomacy had stolen Israel’s thunder.
After years of bellicose rhetoric from ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the foreign minister added that the new government had managed to put an end to Israel’s portrayal of Iran as “a danger” over its nuclear ambitions.
“We shall not allow the Zionist regime — who is illegally in possession of chemical and nuclear weapons and is the biggest violator of non-proliferation laws — to portray Iran as a danger,” Zarif said.
Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu shamelessly makes a scene saying Iran denies the Holocaust, Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb to carry out another Holocaust,” he went on.
“But my colleagues and I are telling the world Iran is opposed to anti-semitism and genocide,” he said.
The Iranian foreign minister added that the Islamic Republic’s new approach has led to the international isolation of Israel.
“The government’s foreign policy has taken away peace and comfort from Netanyahu and has isolated him internationally and this is a great victory that all the resistance forces of the region have each appreciated us for,” he said, according to a translation by the semi-official Iranian Fars news outlet.
After the questioning, the hard-line legislators said they were “satisfied” with Zarif’s “explanation.”
In 2005, Ahmadinejad prompted an international outcry when he called the Holocaust a “myth.”
His successor, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, has offered outreach in place of saber-rattling and Holocaust denial.
The summoning and grilling of Zarif is apparently part of the hard-liners’ increasing pressures on the Rouhani administration.
Zarif and Rouhani have sought to soften that anti-Israeli image, despite supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeatedly casting doubts over the existence and scale of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust remains a polarising issue in Iran, but the leadership appears to be united in seeking to reduce tensions with the world.
Khamenei, who has the final say on key state affairs including nuclear policy, has lent qualified support to Rouhani to push for a permanent deal that would ultimately lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its atomic drive.
Western powers suspect Iran’s atomic drive masks military objectives despite Tehran’s insistence that it only seeks peaceful applications of the technology to produce electricity and medical isotopes and conduct research.