London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appeared before a committee of Iran’s parliament on Tuesday to face questions from Iranian lawmakers about his controversial remarks on the Holocaust and the state of Iran’s military.
The summons took place a week before the resumption of nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers in Vienna, and exposed the divisions between the administration of President Hassan Rouhani and hardliners suspicious of his attempts to end Iran’s international isolation.
Tuesday’s session was Zarif’s second questioning by parliamentarians. Four other members of Rouhani’s cabinet have already been issued warnings by hardliner legislators critical of the president’s policies.
Javad Karimi Ghoddousi played an interview Zarif gave to US television network ABC late last year, in which he called the Holocaust a “heinous crime.”
Zarif made similar comments in an interview with German journalists in February.
The interview was in English, drawing protests from the legislators, forcing Ghoddousi to translate Zarif’s words into Persian.
Ghoddousi said: “The interviewer has asked Zarif why President Hassan Rouhani and you, the Iranian Foreign Minister, have endorsed the Holocaust while Iran’s supreme leader denies it as a myth in the English section of his official website. Zarif says he has talked with the supreme leader in person and he condemned the killing of Jews, while denying remarks attributed to him about the Holocaust.”
Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also repeatedly questioned the veracity of mainstream accounts of the Holocaust, drawing worldwide condemnation, as well as the ire of some Jewish Iranians.
Ghoddousi also accused Zarif of breaking with official Iranian policy on the Palestinian issue, and of saying different things inside and outside Iran. He said: “When Zarif is overseas he adopts different positions. We are not convinced [he is truthful]. Zarif speaks very strongly here.”
In response, the Iranian Foreign Minister said his comments to questions from the international media were designed to combat attempts to portray Iran as aggressive and dangerous.
Zarif said: “[A] propaganda campaign, launched on a wide scale, intends to make people believe that Iran poses a threat to the region . . . Cruel sanctions have been imposed under the shadow of these propaganda campaigns. All these efforts are attempts to break [Iran’s] national strength.”
Zarif also complained that his comments had been taken out of context, saying: “This film was summarized and with an unclear translation. The people of Iran hold to a pure Islamic culture, and in their views the killing of innocents is condemned.”
During his ABC interview last year, Zarif criticized the translation of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini’s comments about the Holocaust, specifically the term “myth.”
The speech, posted on Khomeini’s official website, reads: “Western countries allow no freedom of expression, which they claim to advocate, with regard to the myth of the massacre of Jews known as the Holocaust, and nobody in the West enjoys the freedom of expression to deny it or raise doubts about it.”
Speaking on Tuesday, Zarif added: “As long as I am at the Foreign Ministry we will continue our path in rejecting the Zionist-led project [to portray Iran as a security threat] under the pretext of denial of the Holocaust.”
Zarif hit out at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying: “Netanyahu shamelessly says Iran denies the Holocaust and that Iran intends to create another Holocaust by developing an atomic bomb . . . Iran and Iranians have always provided safe haven to minorities and respect all religions.”
He added: “The Iranian nation is a stranger to anti-Semitism and genocide.”
Ghoddousi also criticized Zarif for saying that the US would be able to disable Iran’s defenses “with one bomb” during a meeting with students at Tehran University at the end of November.
Zarif is reported to have said: “Do you think the US, which can destroy all our military systems with one bomb, is scared of our military system?”
The Foreign Minister’s comments caused anger among Iranian hardliners, who wrote to Rouhani in December asking him to reconsider his appointment of Zarif.
At the time, Zarif responded by claiming that he meant to say that public support for Iran’s nuclear program was its best defense.
On Tuesday, Zarif repeated his assertion, saying: “What the US is afraid of is the resistance of the Iranian nation. In the meantime, we take pride in the defensive power and Basij [a militia] forces of our country. That is an undeniable fact.”
After Zarif ended his remarks, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani asked Ghoddousi if he was satisfied with Zarif’s answers.
The MP replied: “Mr Zarif did not speak frankly about the Zionist regime and we wanted to deliver our message from [parliament] to the leaders of the hegemonic regime [the US] that the government, foreign minister, MPs and the supreme leader are all opposed to the Zionist regime.”
However, when pushed by Larijani, Ghoddousi said he was reassured by Zarif’s remarks.