Iranian president Hassan Rouhani refused to say whether he agreed that Israel should be wiped off a map, but called for a one-state end to the conflict with the Palestinians, in two interviews published Thursday.
Speaking to French TV ahead of his first trip to Europe, Rouhani also denied that Iran ever sought nuclear weapons.
Asked by France 2 whether he shared his hard-line predecessor Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s view that Israel “has no place on the map of the Middle East,” Rouhani answered: “How come this question destined for my predecessor returns now to me?”
He then added that Iran does not believe in a two-state solution.
“We are not speaking of two states but a single one. We say that all the people who originated in Palestine as it was in the borders before 1948 and as it was then as a country should reunite and vote, and whichever [political] system they choose, we will be in agreement with that.”
“Israel in its current form is not legitimate; this is why we don’t have any relations with it, because we do not consider it legitimate,” said Rouhani, according to a France 2 translation.
Speaking to Italian paper Corriere della Sera, Rouhani was asked when the time will come when “Death to Israel” and similar slogans will no longer be part of Friday prayers.
“We respect all monotheistic religions,” he said, including the Hebrew and Christian ones. “The Jewish people have always lived peacefully in Iran […] they have representatives in the Iranian parliament and they can practice their religion freely. But this is different from Zionism’s policies, which is different from Judaism,” the Iranian president said.
“We condemn the persecutions by the Zionist regime in the region, including the killing of Palestinians, and we condemn American policies of unilaterally supporting this regime. What I am trying to say is that the Iranian people can detest Israel and Zionist policies but at the same time love Judaism, the prophets and the book [the Bible].”
Rouhani’s trip next week — the first by an Iranian leader in over a decade — will see him travel to France, Italy and the Vatican, highlighting warming ties with the Continent in the wake of the July nuclear deal.
The visit will largely be devoted to inking new trade agreements. He said there have been discussions regarding future possible collaboration with French companies on several economic ventures.
Ties with the US have remained cold, but he told Corriere della Sera that he could envision a day when the relationship with Washington, accused in Iran of propping up the unpopular Pahlavi regime overthrown in 1979, is restored.
“One day these embassies will reopen, but what matters is the behavior and those who hold the key to this are the Americans. If they change their policies, correct the mistakes they committed during 37 years and apologize to the Iranian people, the situation will change and good things can happen,” he said.
He told the French station that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have never included military use, repeating Tehran’s official line which stands in contrast to Western fears that the country does seek a nuclear weapon.
Asking whether Iran renounces the pursuit of a nuclear bomb, a France 2 interviewer said “for the French there is still a doubt” on this issue. During P+5 negotiations, Paris was seen as the most suspect of Iranian ambitions.
Rouhani said Tehran has “always sought this research uniquely in the domain of civil nuclear power and this continues today.”
Iran has “never wished, at any moment, not yesterday nor today, to manufacture an atomic bomb,” he said.
He added that Iran has long been a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has cooperated with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Our country has always collaborated with the IAEA. All the reports of this agency show that Iran has collaborated well. Today, we are willing to take on all the obligations [of the nuclear agreement] on the condition that the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany take on theirs,” he said.
Before the nuclear deal, the IAEA had long complained that Iran restricted access to suspected nuclear sites. The watchdog recently said Iran was complying with a new inspections regime put in place as part of the nuclear pact.