Friday, June 16, 2006

Ahmadinejad: Holocaust Is Unproven and Should be Independently Investigated

Christopher Bodeeen, Yahoo News:
Iran's president said Friday that the six-nation incentive package aimed at getting his country to halt uranium enrichment was a "step forward" in resolving the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also repeated assertions that the Nazi Holocaust was unproven, saying it should be independently investigated. The hardline president has previously dismissed the Holocaust as a "myth" and said Israel should be "wiped off the map," provoking an international outcry and reinforcing Israel's views that Iran is a serious threat to the Jewish state.

"An event that has influenced so many diplomatic and political equations of the world needs to investigated and researched by impartial and independent groups," Ahmadinejad told reporters in Shanghai where he was attending a regional summit. READ MORE

Ahmadinejad's comments on the nuclear dispute were the highest-level sign that Iran was preparing to negotiate over the package of incentives offered by the Big Five of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany.

"Generally speaking, we're regarding this offer as a step forward and I have instructed my colleagues to carefully consider it," Ahmadinejad told reporters after meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The six-nation proposal called for negotiations, with the U.S. to take part, and other incentives on the condition that Iran freeze its uranium enrichment program.

Iran's leadership, however, has sent mixed signals on how it will respond to the package.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed Thursday that Iran would never back down on its nuclear program and dismissed the threat of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Speaking to Iranian nuclear experts in Tehran, Khamenei said the development of nuclear technology was more important than oil extraction — the source of about 80 percent of Iran's foreign exchange.

Iranian officials have insisted that enrichment is an inalienable right and that talks must be unconditional. The process can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or material for atomic bombs.

The country denies accusations by the U.S. and others that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, saying its program would only generate energy.

After talks with Ahmadinejad in Shanghai on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Iran was prepared to negotiate on the basis of the incentives.

"The Iranian side responded positively to the six-nation proposal for a way out of the crisis," Putin said, adding he hoped Iran would soon set a date for the start of talks.

When Iran received the incentives last week, it said they contained "positive steps" but also ambiguities, which had to be clarified in further talks.

The package included some significant concessions by the U.S., aimed at enticing Tehran to freeze enrichment. The U.S. would provide Iran with peaceful nuclear technology, lift some sanctions and join direct negotiations with Tehran.

The package also pulls back from demands that Iran outright scrap its enrichment program as an initial condition for negotiations, seeking instead a suspension. However, it also contains the implicit threat of U.N. sanctions if Iran remains defiant.

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres warned Friday that Iran would suffer deepening poverty and isolation if it spurned international appeals to halt suspicious nuclear activity.

He said he believed the emerging coalition of nations trying to persuade Iran to freeze uranium enrichment would eventually prevail. Peres noted Iran was devoting huge resources to military development despite a growing population, unemployment and drug addiction.

"Their choice is to keep the country poor and their arsenal rich. It cannot go on forever," Peres told foreign reporters in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ahead of an international conference. "The speeches are very impressive, but the reality is very depressive."

Associated Press Writer Christopher Torchia in Almaty, Kazakhstan, contributed to this story.