Iranian President Calls Holocaust a Myth

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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a parliament session. i

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a Dec. 10 parliament session as Parliament speaker Gholam Hadad-Adel listens in Tehran. Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a parliament session.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a Dec. 10 parliament session as Parliament speaker Gholam Hadad-Adel listens in Tehran.

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

In a speech carried on state television Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a myth. Steve Inskeep talks to Kasra Naji, a journalist in Tehran, about how the president's remarks are being viewed within the country.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. The president of Iran has launched another verbal attack on Israel. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was a myth used by Europeans to create a Jewish state. His speech was carried on state television today. This is the same leader who drew widespread criticism for suggesting recently that Israel should be wiped off the map. To learn more, we've called Tehran and found Kasra Naji, a journalist there. And, Mr. Naji, why is Iran's president saying these things, as best you can determine?

Mr. KASRA NAJI (Journalist): It's a good question. We don't have a good answer to that, really. The fact is that his statement's a topic of conversation amongst the Iranians. They're asking themselves why are we saying all these and why are we provoking this international reaction against Iran at a time when Iran needs a lot of allies because of its nuclear program? So it's all very sort of confused, really. There are theories. One theory is that he is trying to rally around him the hard-liners here who are divided whether or not to support him in his hard-line policies. The other theory is that he genuinely believes that he has a mission. He thinks that Iran has to go back to the rhetorics of the 1979 revolution, when Ayatollah Khamenei was in charge and the rhetoric was pretty hard-line then. He believes that Islamic world has been passive about issues concerning it and particularly the issue of Palestinians is a national interest issue here.

INSKEEP: Now we should mention that in Iran, the president is not necessarily the most powerful official, and it does raise the question of whether the rest of Iran's government supports what Ahmadinejad is saying.

Mr. NAJI: Well, the reaction to his statements have been low-key, if that. I've seen the newspapers here, hard-line newspapers supporting his statements, and moderates, the reformist newspapers here, have been basically reporting it without much comment. I haven't seen many comments against it officially. The only thing I've seen is a member of parliament who's a member of the national security commission in parliament--he has come out openly and publicly criticizing it.

INSKEEP: Are these statements connected in any way to changes in Iran's policies on any issue?

Mr. NAJI: Well, I suppose when you come up with the statements, as he does, you have to follow these things up. I remember in the last few days, we've had the leader of Hamas, which is a hard-line group in Palestine--he has been here meeting with many Iranian officials and the Iranian officials have been supporting Hamas' line, saying that they have to make sure that resistance to Israel continues. So I suppose when the president comes out with hard-line statements like these, these will reflect sooner later in the policies.

INSKEEP: And when you say that he's going back to the rhetoric of the 1979 revolution, is he actively seeking confrontation with the West?

Mr. NAJI: I'm not sure whether he's actually seeking confrontation. I suppose these kind of a statements--they have their own consequences, and even if Mr. Ahmadinejad doesn't want to enter on this path of confrontation, sooner or later, there will be trouble and Mr. Ahmadinejad has to basically decide what he wants to do in actual fact, in practice.

INSKEEP: We've been talking with Kasra Naji, a journalist based in Tehran, about some remarks today by Iran's president, who claims the Holocaust was a myth. Thanks very much.

Mr. NAJI: My pleasure.

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