PMO: Rouhani’s Israel remarks show ‘extremist agenda'

Jerusalem claims Iran used state-run media to cover up comment that "Zionist regime a wound that must be removed."

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office on Saturday night stood by its fierce condemnation of comments attributed to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the “Zionist regime is a wound that needs to be removed,” saying Iran’s later denial of the statement was possibly manipulation of the state-run press.
On Friday, Iran’s semi-official student news agency ISNA quoted Rouhani as saying at an al-Quds Day event, “The Zionist regime is a wound that has sat on the body of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed.”
The Prime Minister’s Office then issued a harsh condemnation, saying these words showed the true face of the new Iranian president, installed in office on Saturday.
“Rouhani’s true face has been revealed earlier than expected,” the statement issued on Friday by the PMO said.
And then, as if anticipating what would happen next, the statement continued, “Even if they will now rush to deny his remarks, this is what the man thinks and this is the plan of the Iranian regime.”
“These remarks by President Rouhani must rouse the world from the illusion that part of it has been caught up in since the Iranian elections,” said Netanyahu, who since Rouhani’s election in June has been calling on the world not to be “taken in” by his “moderate” words and demeanor.
“The president there has changed, but the goal of the regime has not: to achieve nuclear weapons in order to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the peace and security of the entire world. A country that threatens the destruction of the State of Israel must not be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction,” the prime minister said.
Shortly after the ISNA report – which echoed the fiercely anti-Israel language of outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and contradicted the image Rohuani is trying to portray as a “moderate” – the Iranian state media repudiated the story, claiming that unidentified news agencies had distorted Rouhani’s remarks.
Iran’s Press TV then broadcast an excerpt from an exchange between Rouhani and journalists at an al-Quds Day event.
“After all, in our region there’s been a wound for years on the body of the Muslim world under the shadow of the occupation of the holy land of Palestine and the beloved al-Quds,” Rouhani said in the segment. ISNA later published that version of the comment.
But the exchange that was broadcast on Press TV did nothing to alter the position in the Prime Minister’s Office.
One official said that the PMO had no doubt that “the remarks that were [originally] attributed to him [Rouhani] correctly reflect his extremist agenda.”
Asked how the PMO could stand by condemnation of a statement that was at odds with what appeared in the Press TV segment, the official hinted at manipulation, saying that the “the Iranian regime has the ability to control the local press. We don’t accept the denial at face value,” the official said. “Why would the original Iranian report distort his words?” This suggested that the Iranian regime – concerned that Rouhani’s comments would harm the image he has been trying to portray as a “moderate” – possibly staged an exchange with journalists in which Rouhani watered down his original statement.
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, left no room for doubt nor pulled any punches in his last speech as president.
“You planted wind in our region and you will reap the storm,” he said of Israel at an al-Quds Day event. “I swear to God that a ferocious storm is coming and it will uproot the Zionist entity,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, Rouhani took office on Saturday, succeeding Ahmadinejad, after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed him, Iranian media said.
Khamenei kissed Rouhani on the cheek and the new president kissed the leader on his lapel.
The start of Rouhani’s presidency puts an end to Ahmadinejad’s eight years in office during which Iran grew more isolated and came under wide-ranging United Nations, US and European Union sanctions over its nuclear program, putting enormous pressure on the economy.
Rouhani faces huge challenges, including combating inflation which he put last month at 42 percent, bringing down high unemployment and bridging the political divisions between conservative, moderate and reformist factions.
His most immediate test is persuading parliament to approve his candidates for cabinet positions, which he is expected to introduce on Sunday after he takes the oath of office.
“Rouhani will certainly appoint more competent men and women to key economic ministries and institutions. He will also follow saner economic policies,” said Shaul Bakhash, an Iran historian at George Mason University in Virginia “But the economic problems are staggering... Above all, without a serious easing of sanctions, it is difficult to see how Rouhani can get the economy moving again.”
Reuters contributed to this report. •