Iranian FM in hot water for taking softer tone on Israel

Zarif to answer to parliament after allowing for possible recognition of Jewish state; he also acknowledged ‘horrifying tragedy’ of Holocaust

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Senior Iranian lawmakers denounced Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif’s statements to the effect that the Islamic Republic would consider recognizing Israel, and possibly restore diplomatic ties, if a peace agreement with Palestinians was reached, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported Tuesday.

The foreign minister will be questioned by parliament for his remarks, according to Iran’s Mehr News website.

In an interview with German TV, Zarif had 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,” he added.

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.

“There are some points revolving around Mr. Zarif’s discourse when he said that the issue of the Zionist regime and recognition or non-recognition of the regime depends on the Palestinian nation while such a position runs counter to the principles of the Islamic Republic,” Ebrahim Aqa Mohammadi, a member of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told the news agency.

“Zarif’s remark are inconsistent with the principles upheld by the system, since Imam Khomeini believed that the Zionist regime was a malign tumor and the leader believed it as ‘bastard,’” another lawmaker added.

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

During his 45-minute German TV interview, Zarif also acknowledged the Holocaust. “A horrifying tragedy occurred, and it should never occur again,” he said. Still, he added, the Jews’ suffering did not justify their actions against the Palestinians.

Iranian officials — most notably former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — have often said that Israel uses the Holocaust as an “excuse” for its treatment of the Palestinians; they have also disputed the magnitude of the genocide, something that Zarif refrained from doing.

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 semi-official Fars News Agency on Monday denied that the foreign minister had made the Holocaust statements, and quoted his deputy denying them too, contradicting footage of the interview made 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 regime is what has been repeatedly announced by the country’s diplomacy apparatus and this stance has not changed,” said Hassan Qashqavi, the deputy foreign minister.

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 his 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 chuckled. ”There are no exceptions; we wish for a better future and to have beneficial relations with all that we recognize,” he said.

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