Diplomacy

Asked if the Holocaust Happened, Iranian President Says “I’m Not a Historian”

Newly inaugurated Iranian president Hassan Rouhani last night refused to answer a direct question from NBC journalist Ann Curry regarding his stance – agree or disagree – on statements made by his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioning the historical reality of the Holocaust. Rouhani answered “I’m not a historian, I’m a politician.”

The refusal to acknowledge that six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany has become a kind of proxy for the degree to which various Iranian leaders are understood as relative pragmatists, and much has been made by Western analysts of statements made by Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif to the effect that Iranian leaders have never in fact denied that the Holocaust occurred.

The claim is difficult to square with, among other things, boasts by Ahmadinejad claiming that his greatest achievement was mainstreaming Holocaust denial:

“That was a taboo topic that no one in the West allowed to be heard,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech, according to the Iranian Fars news agency. “We put it forward at the global level. That broke the spine of the Western capitalist regime.”

Zarif himself has come under fire. The Wall Street Journal approached his appointment last month with some degree of skepticism, noting remarks Zarif had made several years earlier regarding the Holocaust:

His appointment, asserts Bloomberg News, “suggests the new Iranian president would like to break a 34-year impasse between the Islamic Republic and the U.S.”

Anything’s possible, but those expecting a breakthrough from Mr. Zarif might want to consult video of a visit he made to Columbia University in 2006. It shows Mr. Zarif sounding a lot like now-former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying firebrand that Tehran’s apologists like to portray as an aberration in Iranian politics.

[Photo: Ali Ghadimi / YouTube]