The appearance of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani before the United Nations created an outpouring of rare positive coverage for the country when he gave an interview with CNN where he was quoted as condemning the Holocaust. The world celebrated the possibility that the extremism of the Iranian government might be subsiding. It seemed like a fresh start after the vehemently anti-Semitic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, the Iranian government has now moved to deny the comments — God forbid that its president would acknowledge (let alone condemn) the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis.
What is interesting is that CNN says that it used an interpreter supplied by the Iranian government. That interpreter said that the Holocaust as a “crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews” and called it “reprehensible and condemnable.” What is equally notable is that Rouhani largely repeated his comments in a meeting with news media executives on Wednesday.
None of that matters. Many Iranians were irate over the statement of sympathy. The semiofficial Iranian news agency Fars promptly called CNN a liar and denied the key portions of the quoted interview.
Yet the comments were made after Rouhani was specifically asked by Amanpour if he shared his predecessor’s belief that the Holocaust was a myth. He started in an evasive manner that it was up to historians to judge the “dimensions of the Holocaust.” However, he added “In general, I can tell you that any crime or — that happens in history against humanity, including the crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people — is reprehensible and condemnable, as far as we are concerned.” The Iranians insist that he did not use the words “holocaust” or “reprehensible.” It said that he used the word for “historical events” just as Ahmadinejad used to do.
CNN has responded by airing the actual interview with the words of the interpreter to show that it fabricated nothing.
What remains is a public display of the commitment of the Iranian government to an ahistorical, anti-Semitic account. The move to deny the comments are particularly telling in how well-received they were internationally and how unpopular they were internally. The divide between Iran and the rest of the world is clearly not just historical.