Spain’s former prime minister said Wednesday that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, told him in 2001 that he considered Israel a “cancer condemned to disappear” and that an “open confrontation” with Israel and the US in which Iran will prevail was inevitable.
“Israel to him was a kind of historical cancer and anomaly, a country … condemned to disappear,” Jose Maria Aznar said, recalling a rare meeting with Khameini in Tehran. “At some point he said very clearly, though softly as he spoke, that an open confrontation against the US and Israel was inevitable, and that he was working for Iran to prevail in such a confrontation. It was his duty as the ultimate stalwart of the Islamic global revolution.”
Since then, Iran has been pursuing a nuclear program which it insists is for peaceful purposes and which Israel, the US and others believe is intended to provide it with military nuclear capability.
Speaking to journalists and diplomats in Jerusalem, Aznar also recalled a discussion he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the Russian leader allegedly told him not to worry about an Iranian nuclear bomb since Israel would “take care of it.”
Aznar, who was the president of Spain’s center-right government from 1996 to 2004, has spoken out on Israel’s behalf on many occasions. He has also discussed his meeting with Khameini in the past, but during Wednesday’s presentation at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he made an effort to specify the Iranian leader’s exact phrasing and to interpret his intentions.
Khameini said Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution sought to rid the world of two evils, the US and Israel, “and to preserve unhurt the virtues of the religious regime of the ayatollahs,” according to Aznar. The existence of Israel and the US seriously threatened to pervert the religious society the Supreme Leader envisioned for Iran, and that is something he could not allow to happen, Aznar continued.
Pressed by members of the audience to specify whether Khameini explicitly called for Israel’s destruction, Aznar said the Iranian leader told him it was necessary to eliminate the threat that Israeli poses. “And that means obviously the elimination of Israel,” said Aznar. “If Israel is alive the threat survives. They’re trying to eliminate the threat. The elimination of the threat means Israel must be eliminated.”
Asked whether Khameini actually used to word “eliminate,” Aznar responded affirmatively. He noted, however, that he spoke to the Iranian leader through an interpreter.
Commenting on the current debate over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Aznar said next week’s talks in Baghdad between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 countries should be Tehran’s “last chance to come clean and be cooperative.” He demanded Iran stop all enrichment, remove all previously enriched uranium and dismantle its nuclear facilities, echoing the Israeli government’s position.
“The Iranians must say whether they agree or not,” Aznar said. “A simple yes or no. Other than that, the risk of entering endless negotiations is too high.”
Aznar, who in 2010 founded the Friends of Israel initiative together with other international leaders, also recalled a meeting with Putin, in which he raised the risk of Moscow’s plan to sell Tehran air defense missiles.
“He came closer to me and whispered, ‘Jose Maria, don’t worry. I, you — we can sell everything, even if we are worried by an Iranian nuclear bomb. Because at the end of the day, the Israelis will take care of it,’” Aznar remembered.
Russia in 2007 pledged to provide Iran with at least five S-300 surface-to-air missile systems but in 2010 backtracked.
“I don’t think it’s fair putting all the burden of solving the global problems on the shoulders of Israel. But given the current environment, the decision makers here in Jerusalem must face the question of how to deal with an impending nuclear Iran,” Aznar said. “In any case, we should accept that Israel has the right to defend itself, by itself.”