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(photo credit: AP)
While refraining from repeating his wont outright denials of it, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday in an Associated Press interview that the Holocaust is used as a pretext for the repression of Palestinians, grouping the deaths of Jews during World War II with those of millions of others who died.
He also said he expects "free and open" discussion of nuclear issues at a meeting next week with six world powers, but stressed that his country would not negotiate on its own nuclear plans. He sought to open a wider nuclear dialogue with the West, and said the onus should be on the United States and other major nuclear powers to give up their weapons and to expand opportunities for all countries to make peaceful use of nuclear power.
Ahmadinejad muted his remarks on the Holocaust, an event he has frequently questioned as a matter of historical fact. In a lengthy exchange, he did not repeat those outright denials.
Using markedly less confrontational language than he has in the past, Ahmadinejad said he is not interested in debating historical details. Instead, he said he wants to focus on what he calls the wrong done to Palestinians who lost their land when the state of Israel was formed.
Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust is used as a pretext for the repression of Palestinians. He grouped the deaths of Jews during World War II with those of millions of others who died.
During a speech in Tehran last Friday, Ahmadinejad questioned whether the Holocaust was "a real event" and called it a pretext used by Jews to trick the West into backing the creation of Israel. He said the Jewish state was created out of "a lie and a mythical claim." The United States branded the speech "hateful."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu planned to boycott the Iranian's address.
Ahmadinejad dismissed last week's US shift away from a planned long-range missile shield in Europe, meant to guard against an Iranian strike, as "a respectful way of buying out" Russian objections.
"I heard Mr. Obama saying the next threat is Iran. Iran is an opportunity for everyone," Ahmadinejad said.
The Iranian leader's remarks on those and other issues in an hour-long interview at his New York hotel, just hours after he arrived in the US, appeared designed to present his country as open to a broad international dialogue and to soften Iran's image as a rogue nation bent on spreading its Islamic revolution.
The Iranian leader is in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. Obama is also speaking Wednesday.
He reiterated explicitly that Iran is not building nuclear weapons.
"I hope that Mr. Obama will move in the direction of change," Ahmadinejad said. At another point he said, "The sources of insecurity around the world need to be discussed."
The United States has agreed for the first time to fully join European-led talks with Iran, fulfilling an Obama campaign pledge to engage adversaries but risking a gambit that Iran will hijack the talks and yield nothing.
The United States, Israel and the European Union fear that Iran is using its nuclear program to covertly develop nuclear weapons. But Teheran says the program serves purely civilian purposes and asserts its right to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants to generate electricity.
The Bush administration had refused to negotiate further with Iran until it agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment efforts, which it has refused to do.
Ahmadinejad said he regrets the deaths of protesters in the violence that followed his country's disputed presidential elections, but denied that his government had any role in the killings.
The Iranian leader repeated his nation's interest in cooperating to help stabilize Afghanistan and help Iraq, but blamed the United States for having created chaos in the war-torn country on Iran's eastern border.