Last week, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a myth and suggested that Israel be moved to Germany or Alaska, remarks that prompted international uproar and threatened diplomatic talks with Europe over Iran's nuclear programme.

 

But Hamid Reza Asefi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, defended the president's remarks, which also drew a rebuke from the UN Security Council.

 

"What the president said is an academic issue" he told a weekly news conference. "The West's reaction show their continued support for Zionists.

 

"Westerners are used to leading a monologue but they should learn to listen to different views."

 

Different views

 

An estimated six million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their allies between 1933 and 1945.

 

Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guardsman who was elected president, also said in October that Israel was a "tumour" that must be "wiped off the map".

 

A statement drafted by European Union leaders described last week's Holocaust comment as "wholly unacceptable". The White House termed the remarks "outrageous".

 

Asefi denounced such international condemnation as emotional and illogical.

 

"The EU statement is not based on international diplomatic norms. They should avoid illogical methods," he said.

 

Nuclear stand-off

 

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister, said the Holocaust remarks could weigh on European Union efforts to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme.

 

Britain, Germany and France had tentatively planned to hold talks later this month on the nuclear programme, which the US and the EU fear is a cover to make nuclear bombs. Iran says it needs it to generate electricity.

 

When asked whether Ahmadinejad's remarks could hinder talks to resolve Iran's nuclear stand-off with the West, Asefi said: "We do not make any hasty judgment. But Iran's right should be respected. We will never abandon our right to nuclear technology."