Iran's President Calls Holocaust 'Myth' in Latest Assault on Jews

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 15, 2005

ISTANBUL, Dec. 14 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called the extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II a "myth," bringing a new cascade of international condemnation onto a government that is increasingly viewed as radical even within Iran.

"They have created a myth in the name of the Holocaust and consider it above God, religion and the prophets," Ahmadinejad said in an address carried live on state television.

The speech in the Iranian city of Zahedan echoed the president's remarks at a conference of Islamic nations in Saudi Arabia last week, when he suggested that if Europeans established Israel out of guilt over the Nazi campaign, the country should be carved out of Europe.

But Wednesday was the first time Ahmadinejad declared that the Holocaust had not happened, and the assertion served to further undermine Iran's efforts to persuade other countries that it can be trusted with its nuclear program.

In Western countries, "if someone were to deny the existence of God . . . and deny the existence of prophets and religion, they would not bother him," Ahmadinejad said. "However, if someone were to deny the myth of the Jews' massacre, all the Zionist mouthpieces and the governments subservient to the Zionists tear their larynxes and scream against the person as much as they can."

Iran's official news agencies excised the offending language from transcripts of the speech in an apparent attempt by the government to limit any damage as it tries to avert U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.

"It's really shocking that a head of state who has a seat in the United Nations can say such a thing," said Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union. He said the speech "calls our attention to the real danger of that regime having an atomic bomb."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev told reporters: "The combination of extremist ideology, a warped understanding of reality and nuclear weapons is a combination that no one in the international community can accept."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his government had summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires to issue a protest of the "shocking" remarks. The Foreign Ministry of Poland, where Nazis operated death camps where Jews were killed, said "the remarks of the Iranian president are causing even more outrage" than Ahmadinejad's statement last month that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Since being elected on a populist platform emphasizing a fairer distribution of the country's oil wealth, Ahmadinejad has voiced fiery rhetoric that has emphasized his roots in the extreme reaches of Iranian politics.

A former mayor of Tehran, he came to the presidency with no foreign policy experience. He served in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basiji militia, hard-line organizations committed to keeping alive the tenets of Iran's 1979 revolution, including rejection of ties with the West. On Thursday, Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group based in New York, issued a report linking two members of his cabinet with extrajudicial killings in the 1980s and '90s of Iranians the government regarded as disloyal.

While calls for an end to Israel have long been part of the Iranian theocracy's official creed, Ahmadinejad has turned up the rhetoric significantly, at a time when Iran is seeking international recognition in various ways. It has recently lobbied for membership in the World Trade Organization and for more foreign investment.

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