Iran rebuffs criticism of president's anti-Israel remarks
TEHRAN - Iran yesterday dismissed international criticism of anti-Israel remarks by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling the outburst "very emotional" and urging the West to show greater tolerance for differing points of view.
Last week, Ahmadinejad called the Nazi Holocaust a "myth" and said if Europeans insist it did occur, then they should give some of their own land for a Jewish state, rather than the one in the Middle East.
The comments came just two months after the hard-line president called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
The remarks sparked outrage in Israel and the United States, and European leaders warned on Saturday they would consider diplomatic options for sanctions against Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the international reaction was overblown. "The West had a very emotional attitude about Ahmadinejad's comments. Westerners have to learn to tolerate other's opinion," he told a press conference, dismissing the European sanctions threat as "baseless and illogical."
Asefi said Ahmadinejad had done nothing wrong and was simply articulating Iran's position with regard to Israel.
The blowup over Ahmadinejad's remarks hiked up tensions as Iran and the Europeans prepare to enter a new round of negotiations on Wednesday over Iran's nuclear program. The United States accuses Iran of aiming to produce nuclear weapons, a charge denied by Tehran, which says its program is intended only to generate electricity.
In the U.S.-backed talks, the Europeans are trying to rein in the program to ensure it cannot produce weapons. Iran, however, has rejected a proposal under which uranium enrichment for its program would be carried out in Russia rather than in Iran.
Asefi said Iran has some propositions for the EU envoys but would not give further details. "We have several plans on hand to propose to Europe on the day [of the meeting]. We have not demanded anything excessive. The European side should not make an excessive demand either," Asefi said.
Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, told the state news agency IRNA that the new round of talks would be "unconditional." Larijani accused the U.S and other Western countries of trying to deprive Iran of its achievements.
"Their problem is not with the atomic bomb, they want to thwart Iran's scientific advancements," he said.