New York Times: Iran’s supreme religious leader on Friday rejected the notion that his country was a friend to the Israeli people, but he also called on critics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop using the issue to undermine him.
The New York Times
By NAZILA FATHI
Published: September 19, 2008
TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme religious leader on Friday rejected the notion that his country was a friend to the Israeli people, but he also called on critics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop using the issue to undermine him.
“We have to put an end to such small and petty issues,” said the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, referring to the public anger that boiled over after one of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s senior officials said that Iran had no hostility toward the Israeli people.
“The enemy is trying to increase tension, and unfortunately some people inside the country are unknowingly helping,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to the ISNA news agency.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s comments appeared to be a fresh sign of support for Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has come under increasing pressure for remarks by his vice president for tourism, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who said last month for a second time that Iran was a friend of the Israeli people.
Mr. Ahmadinejad backed up Mr. Mashai on Thursday, saying that his remarks were the position of the government, and that “We have no problem with people and nations” despite Iran’s opposition to the state of Israel.
Ayatollah Khamenei has publicly backed Mr. Ahmadinejad several times in recent months, and his comments Friday were expected to ease the pressure on Mr. Ahmadinejad to fire Mr. Mashai.
Several senior clerics and some 200 members of Parliament had urged the president to dismiss Mr. Mashai for making the remarks, arguing in a statement that the Israeli people “have occupied the homes of millions of innocent and oppressed Palestinians and have created the army of the Zionist regime.”
But after Ayatollah Khamenei’s comments on Friday, Ali Mottahari, one of the members of Parliament who urged the president to fire Mr. Mashai, told the Fars news agency that Parliament would no longer pursue the issue.
Animosity toward Israel was one of the principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and Mr. Mashai’s remarks have set off more protests from legislators than the scandal over a fake degree involving another one of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s senior officials, Ali Kordan.
Mr. Kordan, the interior minister, had claimed to hold an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford. But there were no public calls for the president to dismiss him, even after it became clear this month that he had lied about his credentials and that his real education amounted to a degree from a midlevel college.
Without referring to Mr. Mashai by name, Ayatollah Khamenei also lashed out against Israel on Friday, saying that “it is wrong to say that we are friends with Israeli people like people in other parts of the world.”
“They are partners to occupying the land and possessions of Palestinian people and are the instruments of the Zionist authorities,” he said, according to ISNA.
“They are the occupiers of Israel, and this is the Islamic republic’s firm and official position,” he said.
Mr. Mashai responded by writing to Ayatollah Khamenei, saying “I declare that I am a follower of your notion regarding the occupied land and consider myself a soldier to implement the policies of the country,” the Fars news agency reported.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s comments came before Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. Jewish groups have said that they will hold a rally against him.