As Holocaust dispute flares, Khamenei aides rap Rouhani for conciliatory gestures

Confidants warn against ‘wild moves’ by president; semi-official news agency denies he recognized the Holocaust in CNN interview

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani interviewed on CNN, September 24, 2013 (photo credit: CNN screenshot)
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani interviewed on CNN, September 24, 2013 (photo credit: CNN screenshot)

Analysts and advisers close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s recent gestures to the West and his conciliatory statements, expressing concern that it may have gotten out of hand.

According to a report in the New York Times Wednesday, the Iranian paper, Kayhan, which is close to Khamenei, “expressed horror over the possibility that ‘the clean hand of our president would for moments be in the bloody clench’ of [US President Barack] Obama.”

“We need to gain something from the Americans, before we pose and smile with them,” the report quoted Hamid-Reza Taraghi, an official who trusted with interpreting the speeches of Khamenei, as saying. “Of course, Mr. Rouhani also needed to convince some at home that he is not making any wild moves.”

Rouhani declined an American offer for a meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly currently underway in New York, American officials said Tuesday.

Rouhani explained Wednesday in a CBS interview that, after 35 years of American-Iranian disconnection, “to begin talks requires some preparatory work.”

Said a US official Tuesday: “We have said publicly and we also said privately to the Iranians, that we’re open to having discussions on the margins of UNGA — informal discussions, not a bilateral meeting. That proved to be too complicated for the Iranians to do at this point.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry and other envoys were due to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later Thursday to discuss the revival of nuclear talks. Rouhani has indicated that he is ready for such talks and seeks a resolution to the dispute within three to six months.

On Wednesday, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, said to be close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, claimed that CNN fabricated remarks made by Rouhani in an interview Tuesday with Christiane Amanpour in which he condemned the Holocaust as a crime against humanity.

The comments were considered a major break from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, repeatedly during his eight-year, two-term presidency, derided the mass murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany as a “myth” and a “great deception of the Holocaust” generated by Israel.

The news agency said that Rouhani had not used the word “Holocaust” and denied that he had called it “reprehensible.”

“CNN aired its interview with Rouhani on Tuesday but the news channel added to or changed parts of his remarks,” the Fars report stated.

The American news network, using an interpreter provided by the Iranian government, had quoted Rouhani as saying the following (the entire transcript of the interview can be found here):

“I’ve said before that I am not a historian and then, when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that Nazis committed towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable…

“Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn, because genocide, the taking of the human life, is condemnable and it makes no difference whether that life is a Jewish life, a Christian or a Muslim or what…. For us it is the same…It’s actually something that we condemn and our religion also rejects…

“But this does not mean that, on the other hand, you can say, well, the Nazis committed crimes against, you know, a certain group, now, therefore, they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This, too, is an act that should be condemned, in our view. So there should be an even-handed discussion of this.”

Fars provided its own translation of the comments, which differs significantly from CNN’s:

“I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, (but) the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”

“The dispute over his comments reflects the extreme delicacy of the Holocaust as an issue in Iranian-American relations. More broadly, it speaks to the political tightrope Mr. Rouhani is walking, trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with the United States that will ease sanctions to please everyday Iranians, without provoking a backlash by hard-liners,” the New York Times reported.

Earlier Tuesday, before the interview aired on the US cable news channel, Rouhani spoke at length about “violence and extremism” and his country’s nuclear program before the UN General Assembly.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israeli delegates to walk out of the UN General Assembly during Rouhani’s speech. He later defended his decision, saying their presence “would have given legitimacy to a regime that does not accept that the Holocaust happened and publicly declares its desire to wipe Israel off the map.”

As Israel’s prime minister, he said, “I won’t allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations charade by a regime that denies that Holocaust and calls for our destruction.”

Rouhani said in English in the interview that “I would like to say to [the] American people: I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans.” The Iranian president reiterated that he would like to take serious confidence-building steps with the United States, but that such a detente would require efforts by both sides.

The US broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980, shortly after 52 American diplomats were held hostage in the US embassy in Tehran for over a year.

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