Iran FM: We may recognize Israel after Palestinian deal

Zarif also says Holocaust ‘tragically cruel,’ should not occur again; officials in Tehran deny he made Holocaust statements

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at The World Economic Forum in Davos on January 24, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Eric Piermont)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at The World Economic Forum in Davos on January 24, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Eric Piermont)

The Islamic Republic may consider recognizing Israel after a peace accord is struck with the Palestinians, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif said Monday in an interview with German TV.

Zarif said recognition would be “a sovereign decision that Iran would make.”

“If the Palestinians are happy with the solution, then nobody — nobody — outside of Palestine could prevent that from happening.”

However, the foreign minister also declared that no acceptable agreement had been proposed thus far to the Palestinians, and decried the “crimes” perpetrated against the Palestinian nation.

Iran cut off all diplomatic ties and stopped recognizing Israel after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Zarif also described the Holocaust as an event that was “horrifying tragedy” that “should not occur again.”

“We have nothing against the Jews,” Zarif said.

The semi-official Fars News Agency later denied that the foreign minister had made the Holocaust statements, and quoted his deputy denying them too, despite footage of the interview being available online.

“In a phone conversation that I had with Mr. Zarif he completely rejected the remarks attributed to him and declared that the Islamic Republic’s stance about the (Zionist) regime is what has been repeatedly announced by the country’s diplomacy apparatus and this stance has not changed,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi said, according to the Iranian news agency.

Zarif was in Germany to attend the weekend’s Munich Security Conference. Notably, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sat in the front row of a session at which Zarif spoke, and other Israeli delegates also remained in the hall. At the UN General Assembly last fall, by contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Israel’s delegates to leave the hall for the address by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

In late January, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Rouhani dodged a question about whether Iran would recognize Israel.

During the brief question and answer session after the speech, WEF founder Klaus Schwab focused on Rouhani’s stated desire to work toward better relations with the rest of the world.

“Do you include all countries?” Schwab asked, presumably intending Israel. There was a hum of laughter and expectation from the audience.

Rouhani paused for a moment and laughed. ”There are no exceptions; we wish for a better future and to have beneficial relations with all that we recognize,” he then said with a smile.

In the interview with German TV, Zarif also maintained that a nuclear deal could be reached between Iran and the six world powers within six months should goodwill between countries persist, and said Iran was not concerned about US efforts to renew sanctions.

“I am not afraid of Congress’s decision because the US president has promised to veto such a resolution,” Zarif said.

Fifty-nine Republicans and Democrats back legislation to impose a new round of penalties on Iran, maintaining that crippling economic sanctions forced Tehran to make concessions.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez and Mark Kirk, would blacklist several Iranian industrial sectors and threaten banks and companies around the world with being banned from the US market if they help Iran export any more oil. The provisions would only take effect if Tehran violates the six-month interim deal or lets it expire without a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

In his State of the Union address last week, US President Barack Obama repeated his threat to veto any new Iran sanctions if Congress passes legislation. On Monday, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Congress that new sanctions against Iran would undermine diplomatic talks.

Zarif also said Iran “would never start a military operation against anyone.”

Iran agreed in November to slow its uranium enrichment program to a level that is far below what would be necessary to make a nuclear bomb. It also agreed to increased international inspections to give world leaders confidence that it is not trying to build weapons in secret.

In exchange, the US and five other nations — Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China — agreed to ease an estimated $7 billion worth of international sanctions against Iran’s crippled economy for a six-month period while negotiators try to broker a final settlement.

The next round of talks is set to commence in Vienna on February 18.

The Associated Press and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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