updated 12/16/2005 8:43:10 AM ET 2005-12-16T13:43:10

The Iranian president’s widely condemned remarks about Israel and the Holocaust were “misunderstood” by Western governments, Iran’s interior minister said Friday.

Speaking on the sidelines of an Athens conference on immigration, Mostafa Pur Mohammadi told The Associated Press: “Actually the case has been misunderstood. (President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) did not mean to raise this matter.

“He wanted to say that if certain people have created troubles for the Jewish community they should bear the expenses, and it is not others who should pay for that.”

Ahmadinejad’s comments Wednesday drew quick condemnations from Israel, the United States and Europe, which warned he is hurting Iran’s position in talks aimed at resolving suspicions about his regime’s nuclear program.

Controversial comments
During a tour of southeastern Iran, Ahmadinejad said that if Europeans insist the Holocaust occurred, then they are responsible and should pay the price.

“Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets,” Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in Zahedan. “If you committed this big crime, then why should the oppressed Palestinian nation pay the price?”

“This is our proposal: If you committed the crime, then give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to them so that the Jews can establish their country,” he said in remarks carried live by state television.

In October, he provoked an international outcry by calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels, Belgium, warned in a draft statement Friday Ahmadinejad’s remarks could be grounds for sanctions against Iran.

“These comments are wholly unacceptable and have no place in civilized political debate,” the draft statement said.

Inside Iran, moderates have called on the Islamic cleric-led regime to rein in the president. His election in June sealed the long decline of Iran’s reform movement, which had largely dropped the harsh anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. rhetoric of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and sought to build international ties.

Comments widely condemned
Nations across the world have condemned Ahmadinejad’s remarks. The White House said his words “only underscore why it is so important that the international community continue to work together to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the comments illustrated “the mind-set of the ruling clique in Tehran and indicate clearly the extremist policy goals of the regime.”

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU external relations commissioner, called Ahmadinejad’s views “absolutely irresponsible.” Denying the Holocaust — in which 6 million Jews died during World War II at Nazi hands — is a crime in several European nations.

China, which maintains good relations with both Iran and Israel, said such remarks could undermine world stability.

“We are not in favor of any remarks detrimental to stability and peace,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday. “Israel is a sovereign state.”

Moscow did not directly criticize Ahmadinejad but condemned any attempts to deny the Holocaust and said it was necessary to restate Moscow’s “principled position.”

“Speculation on these themes runs contrary to the principles of the U.N. Charter and the opinion of the world community,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Arab governments appeared reluctant to condemn Ahmadinejad. In Saudi Arabia, government-controlled newspapers picked up the remarks from international news agencies but did not comment on them.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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