December 11, 2006 -- A government-sponsored conference has opened in Tehran that questions whether the massacre of millions of Jews and non-Jews during World War II -- the Holocaust -- ever took place.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki delivered the event's opening address.
"The main aim [of the conference] is to create opportunities for those thinkers who do not have the possibility to express their views about a historical phenomenon in Europe, which claims to be free," Mottaki explained. "I bluntly announce that anti-Semitism is a Western phenomenon and belongs exclusively to the Western countries. In the Islamic lands, there has never been such a phenomenon as anti-Semitism."
Scheduled speakers include French professor Robert Faurisson, who denies the existence of Nazi gas chambers, and Fredrick Toeben, a prominent Australian Holocaust revisionist who has spent several months in a German jail for inciting racial hatred.
The conference has been condemned as "disgraceful" by the United States. Germany also has denounced it. Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum has called the conference "pseudo-academic" and an example of continuing "Holocaust denial" in Iran.
Iran's president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, in the past has cast doubt on the veracity of historical references to the Holocaust, describing it as a "myth."
'Neither Confirm Nor Deny'
The director-general of the Iranian Foreign Ministry's Institute for Political and International Studies, Rassul Mussavi, described the event as an attempt to "create a suitable atmosphere for discussing historical issues."
He acknowledged that "some people who had been asked to attend refused, saying it aims to deny the Holocaust" and that "others assumed the international conference was politically motivated and were reluctant to attend."
"Officials in charge of organizing the conference do not intend to deny or confirm [the Holocaust]," Mussavi said.
But CNN cited an IRNA report that quoted Iran's deputy foreign minister for research, Manouchehr Mohammadi, saying officials in Tehran would accept that the Holocaust happened if the conference's participants could prove the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis.
(IRNA, AP, AFP, dpa, CNN)
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