Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an address commemorating the Persian New Year, Nowruz made a statement questioning whether the Holocaust occurred.
“Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened,” Khamenei’s Twitter account tweeted during the speech, in an apparent attempt to defect criticism of the lack of freedom of speech in Iran.
The Supreme Leader’s comment stands in direct contrast to the so-called “charm offensive” begun last year by new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Zarif even said on Twitter last year that “Iran never denied” the Holocaust. “The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone,” he said, seemingly referring to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“The Holocaust is not a myth. Nobody’s talking about a myth,” he later said on ABC’s This Week. Reporting last month that Zarif took some heat from Iranian hard liners for condemning the slaughter of more than 6 million Jews in the 1930s and 40s, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted that “Holocaust denial has been a staple theme of public speeches in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.”
But while conciliatory statements from Rouhani and Zarif were a welcome change from the wild rhetoric of Ahmedinajad, Khamenei’s remarks on Friday mark a troubling contrast.
Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, told Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen that Khamenei’s remarks signal that he may be worried that Rouhani’s outreach to the West on the nuclear issue is undermining the Iranian political system. Khamenei’s comments are “extremely problematic and deeply disappointing, because these things do undermine a very carefully constructed, useful atmosphere that has been built, that can help facilitate a [nuclear] agreement,” Parsi said.