OpinionIran in the World PressIran's latest olive branch leaves West wondering

Iran’s latest olive branch leaves West wondering

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Times Live: Iran’s government extended an olive branch to the West this week, as officials offered talks on the country’s nuclear programme and repudiated the previous government’s Holocaust denial. The latest charm offensive has Western observers wondering what it means.
Times Live

Sapa-dpa: Iran’s government extended an olive branch to the West this week, as officials offered talks on the country’s nuclear programme and repudiated the previous government’s Holocaust denial.

The latest charm offensive has Western observers wondering what it means – and, if Iran wants to open up, how far it is willing to go.

Iranian former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s stance that the Holocaust – in which about 6 million Jews were killed by Germany’s Nazi regime -was not historical fact had long rankled in the West, especially in Israel, which has rarely seen eye to eye with Iran in recent decades.

Newly installed Foreign Minister Javad Zarif pointedly reversed course on that front this week, denouncing the Holocaust as a massacre.

“Iran never denied the Holocaust,” he wrote Thursday on Twitter. “The man who did that has stepped down. Happy new year.”

The message came as Jews celebrated their new year festival, Rosh Hashanah. It was later lightly amended to refer to Ahmadinejad as the man “who was said to” deny the Holocaust.

The message came a day after the country’s new president, Hassan Rowhani, likewise wished Jews a happy new year on his Twitter feed.

Nor was the message a complete capitulation. While Zarif told the Tasnim news agency that Iran considered the Holocaust to be a “massacre,” he also noted that Jewish Zionists have made use of that piece of history in the past to justify what he called crimes against the Palestinians.

Questions remain in Israel as to whether this was a public relations move or a concrete effort to build relations.

As the world attempted to understand the Rosh Hashanah messages, Zarif confirmed that he would meet this month with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to discuss his country’s disputed nuclear programme.

“I told Lady Ashton that we want a solution to the nuclear issue and, should the West have the same interests, then a solution should be able to be found quickly,” he told the news agency Mehr.

Iran would not give up its “legitimate and internationally recognized right to a peaceful atomic programme,” Zarif insisted, even as he said Iran felt obliged to “allay the concerns of the international community.”

Western powers insist that Iran is trying to gain nuclear weapons capability, which Tehran denies.

No date or time has been set for the meeting with Ashton. Previous sessions have yielded few results.

Zarif’s announcement came shortly after the news that Rowhani had transferred responsibility for nuclear talks with the 5+1 group – UN Security Council veto powers Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany – to the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Those talks had, until recently, been conducted by the secretary of the national security council. Rowhani apparently believes the Foreign Ministry might have more deft diplomatic touch.

Ashton has responded that she hopes to meet with Zarif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 17.

“We are ready to come very quickly to talks. … We really want to move now quickly to resolve this,” Ashton told journalists in Lithuania.

She noted that one goal would be to set a date for the next talks with the 5+1 Group.

Ashton said she expects Zarif to “play an important role in the relationship between the EU and Iran.”

She has spoken to him three times in the last few weeks “on a range of issues.”

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