NEW YORK — Iranian President Hasan Rouhani broke his relative silence on the Palestinian issue Thursday afternoon, telling the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that the Palestinians should not have “to pay” the price of Nazi crimes against the Jews, but that “whatever the people of Palestine accept [for a peace accord], we shall accept as well.”
Rouhani used the same appearance to continue to press for greater oversight of Israel’s nuclear capabilities. He called for weapons of mass destruction to be “completely eradicated from our region,” a reference to his call earlier Thursday for Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “without delay.”
During his evening comments, Rouhani added that “we are happy that Syria has agreed to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Every country should join it as well.” Israel is one of only seven UN member states that are not party to the agreement, as is its neighbor Egypt. Israel signed the ban on the production or use of chemical weapons in 1993, but never ratified it.
Rouhani was pushed during the Q&A session to clarify his statements on the Holocaust. Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars has been at odds with CNN, alleging that the American cable news network mistranslated an interview with the Iranian leader that indicated he had backtracked from the Holocaust denial of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. CNN has stood by its translation.
Ahmadinejad was outspoken about his denial that the Holocaust had taken place, even hosting international Holocaust-denial conferences in Tehran.
“We condemned Nazis’ crimes in World War II, and regrettably crimes were committed against many people, including Jewish people,” Rouhani said Thursday evening. “We condemn the killing of innocent people regardless of their background.”
Even under the guise of seemingly conciliatory statements, however, Rouhani again threw a barb at Israel. “If the Nazis created crimes, others should not be asked to pay for these crimes.”
Rouhani’s claim fit into a history of assertions that the Palestinians are suffering the results of Europe’s crime. In 2008, for instance, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “I think the West, quite rightly, is feeling contrite, penitent for its awful connivance with the Holocaust. Now when you are contrite, when you are penitent, you are then ready to make amends, and we call that penance,” the former anti-apartheid activist told reporters as he probed an IDF shelling of a Gaza residence. “The West is penitent; the penance is being paid by the Palestinians.”
Earlier this week, the Iranian president complained that Israel used the Holocaust as an excuse for persecution of the Palestinians. During a Wednesday interview with CBS’s Charlie Rose, Rouhani complained that “given that we live in the Middle East, we feel the impact of what took place in World War II today in our region.
“We think that it’s time to really separate that event from what’s happening to a group of people now in the Middle East who’ve lost their homes, who have been discriminated against, who have gone through some of the worst kinds of torture that no one — even the Jewish people — would want to see,” he added, referring to Palestinians.