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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad toned down his verbal attacks on Israel, saying in an interview with American television aired Tuesday that the Palestinians should be allowed to determine a resolution to the conflict with Israel.
Ahmadinejad's comments were the latest in which the hard-line leader has sought to show a relatively more moderate face toward the West, including over Iran's controversial nuclear program.
In the interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," Ahmadinejad was asked if he stuck by his past calls for Israel to be "wiped off the face of the map." Interviewer Diane Sawyer also asked whether Iran would recognize Israel if the Palestinians reached a peace deal with it.
Ahmadinejad stopped short of addressing whether Iran would recognize Israel, but said any decision the Palestinians make should be respected.
"We say that based on the charter of the UN, we say that based on the current international regulations, let Palestinians decide," Ahmadinejad said, according to ABC's translation of his Farsi comments.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said he thought Ahmadinejad was being "disingenuous."
"Iran gives support to the most extremist and anti-peace of Palestinian groups - Islamic Jihad, Hamas and others - and has made every attempt to destabilize the situation and encourage violence," Regev said.
Ahmadinejad also repeated a call he has previously made for a referendum among Palestinians and Israelis to determine the fate of the area. "I think that this is their right to determine their future, any decision made by Palestinians must be respected. And I think this is a very clear proposition," he said.
Ahmadinejad raised outrage in the West when he said in an October 2005 speech that Israel's "Zionist regime should be wiped off the map." Supporters of the president and some independent analysts have argued recently that his words were mistranslated from the Farsi - they argue it is better translated "vanish from the pages of time," implying it would vanish on its own rather be destroyed.
In the ABC interview, Ahmadinejad compared Israel to the Soviet Union, saying, "What happened to the former Soviet Union? It disappeared, disappeared from the face of the Earth. Was it because of war? No. It was through the decision of the people."
Ahmadinejad has taken a less confrontational tone in recent days at a time when the United States has sharply stepped up its pressure on Iran, increasing its military presence in the Gulf and accusing Iran of providing sophisticated explosives to militants in Iraq.