Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- who in October called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" -- has now questioned the extent of the Holocaust and suggested that the Jewish state be moved to Europe. Ahmadinejad's comments, made on the sidelines of a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), have again sparked international condemnation.
Prague, 9 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations, United States, European countries, and Israel have all expressed shock and revulsion over President Ahmadinejad's latest comments.
Speaking yesterday at a press conference on the sidelines of the OIC summit in Mecca, Ahmadinejad said: "Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews. And they insist so strongly on this issue that anyone who denies it is condemned and sent to prison.
"Although we don't believe this claim," the Iranian president continued, "let's suppose what the Europeans say is true.... Let's give some land to the Zionists in Europe or in Germany or Austria. We will also support it." He added: "They faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?"
His remarks came just a few weeks after he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," a comment that also triggered a firestorm of criticism and condemnation.
Israel called Ahmadinejad's latest comments outrageous. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the Iranian regime appears intent on the destruction of Israel and should be prevented from developing nuclear weapons. "European countries and the Russians should join the Americans in order to transfer or to take the Iranian file [on its nuclear program] and to move it to the Security Council," he said. "And the sooner, the better."
The United States also condemned Ahmadinejad's comments. U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington: "These latest remarks, which we've seen reports of, are clearly both appalling and reprehensible. They certainly don't inspire hope among any of us in the international community that the government of Iran is prepared to engage as a responsible member of that community."
The White House said Ahmadinejad's remarks again show why the United States believes Iran should be blocked from developing nuclear weapons.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a written statement, expressed shock over the remarks. He noted that only last month the UN General Assembly passed a resolution rejecting any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event.
The comments were also strongly criticized in Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Ahmadinejad's suggestion that Israel be relocated to German or Austrian soil was "unacceptable." British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking on behalf of the 25-nation European Union, said Ahmadinejad's remarks have "no place in civilized political debate."
Some observers believe Ahmadinejad makes such statements deliberately to make headlines and please his hard-line supporters in Iran and elsewhere.
Masud Behnud, a veteran Iranian journalist who spoke to RFE/RL last month, shortly after Ahmadinejad called for the elimination of Israel, said he believed that comment was carefully calculated.
"In an interview broadcast by Iran's state television, in response to a question that his comments have created an international uproar, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, 'If others have something to say, they should also say it, and we will see whether it will be mentioned.' I think this shows that Ahmadinejad wanted to make the headlines. He wanted to cause an uproar and become a personality in the radical world. And I believe that he has achieved his goal," Behnud said.
Faisal Ali, an editor with Saudi Arabia's main English-language daily, "Arab News," told RFE/RL that Ahmadinejad's call for the transfer of Israel to Europe did not get much coverage during the OIC summit, which ended with a call on Muslim countries to fight terrorism and promote tolerance.
"He didn't make the comments during the summit," Ali said. "It was a separate interview with a TV channel when he said that Israel should be moved out of the Middle East. But so far, concerning the reactions, it was not applauded, it was not welcomed, it was not encouraged by anyone here. But it certainly evokes a response in the streets. People love these things because the Palestine issue is a big issue here in the Middle East."
On 5 December, "Arab News" quoted a Saudi observer as saying Ahmadinejad has endeared himself to Muslims worldwide because of his "tough stance against the United States."
Inside Iran, Ahmadinejad's remarks are likely to cause unease and dismay. Some officials and reformists have expressed concern that Ahmadinejad's confrontational style and lack of subtlety in international affairs are damaging Iran's national interests.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month expressed support for Ahmadinejad and said criticism of the president must stop.
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