'The Holocaust was a disaster,' says Zarif

Iran rejects Pence’s anti-Semitism charge, says it’s ‘just against Zionists’

‘Iran has always supported the Jews,’ FM Zarif insists, fending off US accusation his country ‘openly advocates another Holocaust’

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 13, 2019 (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 13, 2019 (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iranian officials rejected over the weekend an accusation by US Vice President Mike Pence that it “openly advocates another Holocaust.”

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in the southern German city on Saturday after a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland earlier in the week, Pence accused Iran of trafficking in “vile anti-Semitic hatreds and threats of violence,” and warned that “the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it.”

The comment drew an angry retort from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who told the German daily Der Spiegel on Saturday that the accusation was “laughable,” according to a translation by Reuters.

“Iran has always supported the Jews. We are just against Zionists,” he insisted, adding, “The Holocaust was a disaster.”

Zarif’s ministry spokesman, Bahram Qasemi, defended his country’s “respect for divine religions, particularly Judaism,” but said Tehran opposed Israel’s “aggressive and occupying nature.”

US Vice President Mike Pence kneels beside his wife Karen, right, at a freight car once used to transport Jews, during their visit to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland, Friday, February 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

“Iran’s historic and cultural record of coexistence and respect for divine religions, particularly Judaism, is recorded in reliable historic documents of various nations,” Qasemi said.

“The principle that underlies our foreign policy is the aggressive and occupying nature of the Zionist regime… which is a killing machine against the Palestinian people.”

The Iranian regime has sponsored numerous conferences and artistic contests aimed at questioning the veracity of historical accounts of the Holocaust.

Some 80 to 90 percent of Iran’s Jewish community has fled the country since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Iranian regime views Israel and the United States as political and spiritual arch-enemies, and its leaders regularly vow to destroy the Jewish state.

In his speech Saturday, Pence noted that “Ayatollah Khamenei himself has said, ‘It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and US Vice President Mike Pence, left, at the 55th Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on February 16, 2019. (Christof Stache/AFP)

He said: “Yesterday, my wife Karen and I paid our solemn respects to the martyrs of the Holocaust in our very first visit to Auschwitz. One lesson of that dark chapter of human history is that when authoritarian regimes breathe out vile anti-Semitic hatreds and threats of violence, we must take them at their word. The Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust.”

Pence urged European powers once again to end their involvement in the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. The US unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement last year, while the other powers involved — Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia and the European Union — remain obligated to the deal.

The accord offers Iran sanctions relief for limiting its nuclear program, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Tehran is sticking to the agreement.

But the US argues that the deal just puts off when Iran might be able to build a nuclear bomb. Pence pushed at the conference for Europeans to end their involvement in the nuclear deal, calling Iran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining US sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime,” Pence said. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people, our allies and friends in the region. The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”

AP contributed to this report.

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