Iranian president’s anti-Israel comments could lead to EU sanctions
BRUSSELS, Belgium – Iran could face sanctions if it keeps provoking Israel and the West, European leaders warned Friday, even as the Tehran regime’s interior minister said the Iranian president’s remarks had been “misunderstood.”Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad aggravated tensions with the West this week by calling the Holocaust a “myth,” a statement that came two months after he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”European leaders said Ahmadinejad’s remarks were the latest “provocative political moves” from Tehran since May.”These comments are wholly unacceptable and have no place in civilized political debate,” said a draft statement at a European Union summit that EU leaders were expected to adopt later Friday.EU leaders warned Tehran they would review diplomatic options for possible sanctions against Iran.The condemnation came as Iran prepares to resume talks Wednesday with European envoys over its nuclear program, which the EU and United States fear is intended to build atomic weapons. Envoys from Britain, Germany and France are trying to get Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.”I haven’t seen any evidence that Iran is interested in a deal that is going to be acceptable to an international community that is extremely skeptical of what the Iranians are up to,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Associated Press in Washington.Rice predicted the United States would have enough votes at the U.N. Security Council to impose international sanctions against Iran but hinted she was waiting for other nations to join such an effort.”We also recognize that it is important for others to also come to the conclusion that we’ve exhausted the diplomatic possibilities,” she said.EU leaders warned that the bloc was losing patience in mediating the standoff. “The window of opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.”The leaders said they were “gravely concerned at Iran’s failure to build confidence that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful,” adding that recent decisions to resume work on enriching uranium “only add to the EU’s profound concerns about Iran’s intentions.”On Ahmadinejad’s comments regarding the Holocaust, Iran’s interior minister insisted Friday that the West had “misunderstood” what the Iranian leader was saying.Ahmadinejad “wanted to say that if others harmed the Jewish community and created problems for the Jewish community, they have to pay the price themselves,” Mostafa Pourmohammadi told The Associated Press in Athens, Greece. “People like the Palestinian people or other nations should not pay the price.””A historical incident has occurred. Correct or not correct. We don’t want to launch research or carry out historical investigation about it,” Pourmohammadi said on the sidelines of a conference in the Greek capital.In Berlin, German lawmakers unanimously condemned the Iranian president’s remarks, calling them “completely unacceptable.” Lawmakers urged the German government to “counter any policy that disputes Israel’s right to exist and denies the Holocaust.”Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, a country sensitive about its Nazi past and the genocide that killed more than 6 million Jews during World War II.”What the Iranian president has said about the state of Israel is completely unacceptable,” Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said. “He knows that he is denying the Holocaust and he is wrong.”In remarks carried live by state television and repeated several times, Ahmadinejad said during a tour of southeastern Iran on Wednesday that if Europeans insist the Holocaust occurred, then they are responsible and should pay the price.”Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets,” Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in Zahedan. “If you committed this big crime, then why should the oppressed Palestinian nation pay the price?”This is our proposal: If you committed the crime, then give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to them so that the Jews can establish their country.”The EU statement Friday reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist, noting that “all members of the United Nations have undertaken to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”But Iran continued its verbal assault against Israel, with the defense minister saying in Tehran that any Israeli attack would provoke a “destructive” response.Israeli defense officials say they have not ruled out a military strike against Iran if it advances further toward obtaining nuclear weapons.If Israel strikes, “the answer of the Iranian armed forces to any attack would be quick, sharp and destructive,” Gen. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was quoted as saying Friday on Iranian state TV.Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told AP that “Israel has no intention of attacking Iran, but Israel will know how to defend itself if anyone threatens its existence.”—Associated Press writers Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Greece, and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.