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Ahmadinejad Calls Holocaust A 'Historical Event;' But Also 'Opinion Of A Few'

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Sept. 24, 2009. i

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Sept. 24, 2009.

Ahmadinejad.

Tom Bullock/NPR

Challenged again about his statements regarding the Holocaust, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NPR's Steve Inskeep today that the murders of more than six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II are "claims" based on "the opinion of a few."

But he also called the Holocaust a "historical event" — after referring to it just days ago as a "myth."

Interviewed in New York, where he's been attending the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, Ahmadinejad also said that one of the most documented atrocities in modern history still needs to be researched and is being used to justify Israel's existence.

As you'll hear in this clip, the conversation gets somewhat heated as Steve challenges Ahmadinejad. At one point, the Iranian president, his interpreter and Steve are all speaking at the same time:

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Much more from Steve's interview will be on All Things Considered today and Morning Edition tomorrow. Click here to find an NPR station near you.

Update at 2:05 p.m. ET. Steve sums up the interview this way:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmaindejad appeared to admit the existence of the Holocaust in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition on Thursday.

The Iranian president is a target of widespread criticism after he used a speech in Iran to refer to the genocide of Jews during World War II as a "myth." He briefly retreated from that statement while taking questions in New York.

"The first question is, Is the holocaust a historical event or not? It is a historical event," he said. He went on to complain that this event is given too much prominence. Later in the interview, Ahmadinejad shifted his position yet again, saying the accounts of Holocaust survivors were merely "claims," and adding, "I do not wish to pass a judgment."

It's also worth noting that "historical event" is a phrasing he's used before when discussing the holocaust.

The holocaust discussion was one portion of wide-ranging interview in New York, Ahmadinejad's first appearance before the United Nations since his disputed re-eletcion in June.

In a lengthy exchange, the Iranian president was pressed repeatedly about the arrest, torture, and murder of Iranians who protested against the official election result. Under questioning, he said that members of his country's security forces "may lose their jobs" if they are found guilty of torturing and murdering protesters who disputed Ahmadinejad's claim to have won an re-election June 12. Ahmadinejad had previously denied that security forces were involved in prisoner abuse, suggesting that the mistreatment had been orchestrated from outside.

In the NPR interview, Ahmadinejad said there was "free speech in Iran," and denied that anyone had been arrested for protesting against him. "No one is persecuted simply because of speaking something against Ahmadinejad or against Ahmadinejad's policies," he said.

Asked if he would call for the release of 100 suspected political opponents who were convicted en masse in a much-criticized trial earlier this year, the Iranian president said, "I do not want to say that what actions are taken by judges are always 100% correct, but for there to be order in society we have to accept the verdict of the judge."

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