(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran could face sanctions if it keeps provoking Israel and the West, European leaders warned Friday, even as the Teheran regime's interior minister said the Iranian president's remarks had been "misunderstood."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad aggravated tensions with the West this week by calling the Holocaust a "myth," a statement that came two months after he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
European leaders said Ahmadinejad's remarks were the latest "provocative political moves" from Teheran since May.
"These comments are wholly unacceptable and have no place in civilized political debate," said a draft statement at a European Union summit that EU leaders were expected to adopt later Friday.
EU leaders warned Tehran they would review diplomatic options for possible sanctions against Iran.
The condemnation came as Iran prepares to resume talks Wednesday with European envoys over its nuclear program, which the EU and United States fear is intended to build atomic weapons. Envoys from Britain, Germany and France are trying to get Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.
Leaders warned that the EU was losing patience in mediating the international standoff. "The window of opportunity will not remain open indefinitely."
EU leaders said they were "gravely concerned at Iran's failure to build confidence that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful," adding that recent decisions to resume work on enriching uranium "only add to the EU's profound concerns about Iran's intentions."
Iran's interior minister insisted Friday that the West "misunderstood" Ahmadinejad's comments.
Ahmadinejad "wanted to say that if others harmed the Jewish community and created problems for the Jewish community, they have to pay the price themselves," Mostafa Pourmohammadi told The Associated Press in Athens, Greece. "People like the Palestinian people or other nations should not pay the price."
"A historical incident has occurred. Correct or not correct. We don't want to launch research or carry out historical investigation about it," Pourmohammadi said on the sidelines of a conference in the Greek capital.
In Berlin, German lawmakers unanimously condemned the Iranian president's remarks, calling them "completely unacceptable." Lawmakers urged the German government to "counter any policy that disputes Israel's right to exist and denies the Holocaust."
Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany, a country sensitive about its Nazi past and the genocide that killed more than 6 million Jews during World War II.
"What the Iranian president has said about the state of Israel is completely unacceptable," Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said. "He knows that he is denying the Holocaust and he is wrong â€¦ and I condemn it."
In remarks carried live by state television and repeated several times, Ahmadinejad said during a tour of southeastern Iran on Wednesday that if Europeans insist the Holocaust occurred, then they are responsible and should pay the price.
"Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets," Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in Zahedan. "If you committed this big crime, then why should the oppressed Palestinian nation pay the price?
"This is our proposal: If you committed the crime, then give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to them so that the Jews can establish their country."
The EU statement Friday reaffirmed Israel's right to exist, noting that "all members of the United Nations have undertaken to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state."