Iran’s hard-line president lashed out with a new outburst at Israel on Wednesday, calling the Nazi Holocaust a “myth” used as a pretext for carving out a Jewish state in the heart of the Muslim world.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments 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.
The White House said his remarks showed why Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Germany, one of three European Union countries leading the nuclear talks, called his statements “shocking and unacceptable.”
Iran and the Europeans are due to resume the U.S.-backed negotiations soon, possibly in late December, trying to find a compromise on reining in Tehran’s nuclear program and avoiding a confrontation.
Washington says Iran is secretly trying to build warheads. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, and Ahmadinejad reiterated Wednesday that his regime refuses to give up key processes that can produce weapons-grade material as well as fuel for atomic reactors that generate electricity.
It was difficult to measure the impact that increasing anger over Ahmadinejad might have on the negotiations.
The Europeans have not threatened to call off the talks, which they see as vital to a peaceful resolution of fears over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But Ahmadinejad’s words, which come as the top U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has said it is losing patience with Tehran, could lead Europe to take a tougher stance.
Ahmadinejad isolating Iran?
So far, Ahmadinejad has appeared to only escalate his rhetoric in the face of widespread international criticism, suggesting he may be seeking to fire up supporters at home.
Some allies warn that he is isolating the country when it needs support for its nuclear program. But supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final word on all matters, has stood by the president, even calling this week for Palestinian militants to step up their fight to drive Israelis out of Jerusalem.
Ahmadinejad provoked an outcry in October when he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” When that drew international anger, he responded by holding large anti-Israel rallies.
Last week, he expressed doubt about Nazi Germany’s slaughter of 6 million European Jews during World War II, raising a new storm of criticism. On Wednesday, he went a step further and said for the first time that he didn’t believe the Holocaust happened.
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.
The White House said Ahmadinejad’s words “only underscore why it is so important that the international community continue to work together to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the speech illustrated “the mind-set of the ruling clique in Tehran and indicates clearly the extremist policy goals of the regime.”
The German government summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires to express its displeasure.
“I cannot hide the fact that this weighs on bilateral relations and on the chances for the negotiation process,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin.
In unusually strong comments, the president of the European Union’s administrative body, Jose Manuel Barroso, said Iranians “do not have the president, or the regime, they deserve.”
“It calls our attention to the real danger of that regime having an atomic bomb,” Barroso added.
EU foreign ministers were likely to discuss Ahmadinejad’s comments during an EU summit Thursday, commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said.
Moderates seek a different stance
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.
In his speech, Ahmadinejad also took aim at the United States and the West, saying they had harmed Muslims.
“If your civilization consists of aggression, making oppressed people homeless, suffocating the voices of justice and bringing poverty to a majority of the world’s people, we say loudly that we hate your hollow civilization,” he said.