Iran rejects claims of ‘more nuanced approach’ to Israel

Spokesperson dimisses British foreign secretary’s assertion it may moderate its views, denies discussions on Jewish state even took place

Marziyeh Afkham (Screen capture: YouTube)
Marziyeh Afkham (Screen capture: YouTube)

Iran denied British claims that it had indicated a “more nuanced approach” to Israel, saying Tuesday that such discussions had not taken place and that its attitude toward the Jewish state remained unchanged.

British and Iranian officials had discussed joint cooperation between the two countries as well as regional and international policy, spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham said, according to the Iranian Tasnim News Agency.

But she added that British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had not discussed Tehran’s position on Israel with President Hassan Rouhani.

“During the meeting, our country’s authorities elaborated on our country’s principled and firm stances on the international developments which calls for all-out confrontation against terrorism, occupation and extremism,” Afkham said.

She made clear that there had been no change in Iran’s stance on the Zionist Regime, the agency report said.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, right, welcomes British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at the start of their meeting in his office, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, right, welcomes British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at the start of their meeting in his office, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

On Monday, Hammond said Iranian President Rouhani had indicated a “more nuanced approach” to Israel, and that aggressive statements by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei should not necessarily be seen as representative of the country’s foreign policy.

“We’ve got to, as we do with quite a number of countries, distinguish the internal political consumption rhetoric from the reality of the way they conduct their foreign policy,” the Guardian quoted British foreign secretary Philip Hammond as saying Monday.

Hammond was in Tehran for the reopening of the UK embassy, four years after a mob stormed the compound, forcing its closure.

Hussein Sheikholeslam (screen capture: YouTube)
Hussein Sheikholeslam (screen capture: YouTube)

In an earlier response to Hammond’s comments, a senior Iranian official said Tuesday that Israel “should be annihilated,” and that the thawing relations with the West would not translate into a shift in Tehran’s position concerning the Jewish state. Hussein Sheikholeslam, a foreign affairs adviser to parliament speaker Ali Larijani, told Iranian media that contrary to remarks by Hammond, “Our positions against the usurper Zionist regime have not changed at all; Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan.”

On Sunday, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Zarif acknowledged gaps in Iran and Britain’s policy views, but said that dialogue was the best way to resolve those differences, adding that Iran was open to discussing these issues, Tasnim reported.

The comments echoed a similar incident in July after German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned at the start of a three-day visit to Tehran in July that Berlin could not accept Iran’s questioning of Israel’s right to exist, and that such attitudes could harm business relations between the two countries.

“The main goal of the German vice chancellor’s visit to Iran is a discussion of the prospects of mutual cooperation,” Afkham said in response at the time. “We quite naturally have our own concerns and views on existing threats, including the Zionist regime’s threats and the roots of the crises in the region.”

She added that “this is not something new.”

Hammond’s visit came as European countries have moved to quickly re-establish diplomatic and financial ties with Iran in the wake of the nuclear agreement reached in July.

However, Zarif dismissed talks Tuesday of establishing an EU office in its capital, saying the issue had not been discussed during a recent visit by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Zarif also said that Iran was interested in improving its relations with surrounding countries, including Saudi Arabia, but that “it is up to them [the Arab countries] to welcome the move.”

Iran and Saudi Arabia, the foremost Shiite and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, have had troubled relations in recent years, including waging apparent proxy wars in Syrian and Yemen.

Prior to the nuclear agreement, Saudi Arabia expressed fears that if too much of Iran’s nuclear program is left intact, it will still have the ability to obtain an atomic bomb.

Last month Mogherini met with the Saudi foreign minister to ease the country’s concerns over the nuclear agreement with its regional rival.

Times of Israel staff, AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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