It has been a big week for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The centrist cleric has been light on his feet, managing to charm delegates during the U.N. General Assembly, while also appeasing the base of supporters as well as hardline critics at home in Iran.
His speech before the Assembly appealed to the West and paved the way for resetting diplomatic ties with the United States. Several analysts said that he was stalwart and clear without pandering or appearing sharply critical. The one issue with which he did take umbrage was the levying of sanctions against Iran, which he said harms the Iranian people.
The whirlwind tour of Manhattan has found the cleric as a fixture about town this week. All seemed to be going well for 65-year-old Rouhani until the issue of the Holocaust was raised during a CNN interview.
To his credit, Rouhani called the Holocaust a “crime that the Nazis committed towards the Jews” and said it was “reprehensible and condemnable.”
Certainly the comments were well received by the West. However, Iranian state media has taken a different view, accusing CNN of lying about the story, fabricating parts of the interview entirely. The news agency claims Rouhani never used the word “Holocaust” to describe the mass killings and did not qualify the actions of the Nazis as “reprehensible.”
In a statement on the Fars News website, the agency posted the following, “CNN officials seem to be escaping their responsibility of informing the public honestly. During the interview, the CNN aired an English translation of President Rouhani’s remarks which was totally inaccurate and untrustworthy, and in some parts contained sentences which were not at all uttered by the president.”
CNN defended itself against the accusations. Officials for the network point out that the interview with Rouhani was conducted through an interpreter from the Iranian government, who translated Rouhani’s comments from Persian.
If accurate, the comments by Rouhani regarding the Holocaust would serve as a welcome change to the claims from Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad not only denied the Holocaust but he called mainstreaming the idea of denial one of the major achievements of his presidency.
In a farewell speech back in July, he told supporters, “That was a taboo topic that no one in the West allowed to be heard. We put it forward at the global level. That broke the spine of the Western capitalist regime.”
According to Times of Israel, Rouhani, who won the election after Ahmadinejad served eight years in office, had previously characterized his predecessor’s Holocaust denial as “hate rhetoric” in the run-up to the election.
The Wall Street Journal did its own translation of the interview and noted that there were subtle but far-reaching differences between what was actually said and what CNN says was actually said. Pretty much that Rouhani skillfully alluded to but did not say there was a Holocaust.
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The last word in all of this should go to The Daily Beast writer and hero Michael Moynihan, who said, “Aren’t our moral standards for Iranian theocrats rather too elastic? It’s lovely that Iran’s new moderate president wants to moderate his government’s reputation for being a viper’s nest of lunatics, thugs, and anti-Semites, but must so many representatives of the fourth estate — a wholly owned arm of the you-know-who lobby — be willing to redefine ‘moderation’ and ‘condemnation’ along Iranian lines?”