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Iranian president: Israel should be moved to Europe
Iran's hard-line president, who once called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," again sparked a barrage of international criticism Thursday, saying the Jewish state should be moved to Europe and questioning whether the Holocaust took place.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implied that European countries backed the founding of Israel in the Middle East in 1948 out of guilt over the Nazi genocide.
"Some European countries insist on saying that during World War II, Hitler burned millions of Jews and put them in concentration camps," Ahmadinejad said. "Any historian, commentator or scientist who doubts that is taken to prison or gets condemned."
"Let's assume what the Europeans say is true ... Let's give some land to the Zionists in Europe or in Germany or Austria," he said. "They faced injustice in Europe, so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?"
Israel condemned Ahmadinejad's remarks as "outrageous and even racist." The United States denounced them as "appalling and reprehensible."
Ahmadinejad has been unapologetic about taking Iran on a more openly defiant course, insisting on Iran's right to develop its nuclear program — which it insists is peaceful — and often using rhetoric reminiscent of the 1980s heyday of the Islamic Revolution.
But he has alienated even some conservative allies in Iran, who feel he is taking a go-it-alone stance in domestic politics and hurting Iran abroad with his comments. In an unusual slap to the Iranian leader, his allies in parliament have rejected his proposed candidates for oil minister three times, saying he has failed to consult with them.
His remarks Thursday were even more striking for their venue: a summit of Muslim nations in Islam's holiest city, Mecca, convened to condemn terrorism and extremism and stressing the themes of moderation and tolerance.
Speaking at a news conference on the summit sidelines, he said most Jews in Israel "have no roots in Palestine, but they are holding the destiny of Palestine in their hands and allow themselves to kill the Palestinian people."
Ahmadinejad raised a similar storm in October when he called Israel a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." Still, Ahmadinejad, who was elected in June with the backing of Iran's hard-line clerical rulers, stuck by the comments, and his government organized a series of large anti-Israel demonstrations.
His rhetoric, combined with Israel's belief that Tehran's nuclear activities are aimed at producing nuclear warheads, have increased tension between Israel and Iran.
"I think the statement that was made today by the Iranian president should be a wake up call to all of us around the world," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said. "We should do everything we can in order to stop him, and to stop the Iranian effort to develop a nuclear bomb. This country ... will do everything it can in order to destroy the state of Israel."
In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the comment "further underscores our concerns about the regime in Iran. It's all the more reason why it's so important that the regime not have the ability to develop nuclear weapons."
American Jewish groups joined the condemnations. Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called the comments a "repugnant distortion of history."
Kenneth Bandler, communications director for the American Jewish Committee, denounced Ahmadinejad as "a fanatic who heads a country developing nuclear weapons. The international community must mobilize to ensure that (his) threats are denied."
Josh Block, spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, said the comments were "further evidence of the critical threat Iran poses to America, our allies and our national security interests."
The latest flare-up comes as Iran and the Europeans have agreed to resume negotiations aimed at ensuring Iran's nuclear program cannot produce weapons — talks that broke off in August after Tehran restarted uranium conversion, a precursor to enrichment. Enrichment can produce fuel for either nuclear reactors or weapons. A date for the resumption has not been set.
Ahmadinejad on Thursday repeated his government's rejection of a key compromise touted by the Europeans, under which Iran's uranium enrichment be moved to Russia to guarantee it cannot be secretly used for weapons. Iran would then receive nuclear fuel from abroad to power its reactors.
The president insisted enrichment could not be taken abroad. "What are your guarantees that you will supply us with fuel in future?" he asked. "Possibly tomorrow, after we have come to depend on you for energy, you will not give us the fuel at a proper time and price."
"Our people's way is clear. The subject of talks with the European countries and the Energy Agency will be only for the supervision that we will not deviate from peaceful processes," he said. "We will not allow for the talks to touch on our right to get nuclear technology."