Iran rejects 'laughable' anti-Semitism allegations by Pence

Tehran dismisses accusations by US vice president, saying it 'supports Jews' but is 'against Zionists'.

    US Vice President Mike Pence said Iran 'advocates another Holocaust and … seeks the means to achieve it' [Andreas Gebert/Reuters]
    US Vice President Mike Pence said Iran 'advocates another Holocaust and … seeks the means to achieve it' [Andreas Gebert/Reuters]

    Iran has rejected accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against it by US Vice President Mike Pence, saying it respects Judaism but opposes Israel.

    Foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi said on Saturday that Iran had a "historic respect" for "divine religions", dismissing claims by Pence that Tehran is in favour of a second Holocaust.

    "Iran's historic and cultural record of coexistence and respect for divine religions, particularly Judaism, is recorded in reliable historic documents of various nations," Qasemi said, according to the Iranian foreign ministry's website.

    He added that the principle underlying Tehran's foreign policy was "the aggressive and occupying nature of the Zionist regime [Israel] ... which is a killing machine against the Palestinian people".

    Iran and Israel have been bitter enemies since the former's 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the Western-allied secular monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and led to the formation of the Islamic Republic headed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shia religious leader.

    'Just against Zionists'

    Qasemi's comments came after Pence alleged earlier on Saturday that Iran "advocates another Holocaust and … seeks the means to achieve it".

    "The Ayatollah Khamenei himself has said, 'It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map'," Pence said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

    The Holocaust saw German forces led by Adolf Hitler and his ruling Nazi Party murder more than six million Jews during World War II, from 1939-1945, with nearly seven out of every 10 Jews in Europe being killed because of their identity.

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    On Friday, Pence accused Tehran of anti-Semitism akin to the Nazis after visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed Pence's comments as "laughable", Reuters news agency reported on Saturday.

    "Iran has always supported the Jews, we are just against Zionists, the Holocaust was a disaster," Zarif told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, according to the Reuters report.

    Iran's ancient Jewish community has slumped to an estimated 10,000-20,000 from 85,000 at the time of the country's 1979 revolution, but it is believed to be the biggest in the Middle East outside Israel.

    Nuclear deal disagreements

    The US-Iran spat took place against a backdrop of continued efforts by Washington to urge its allies to abandon the Iran nuclear deal and cooperate with US efforts to impose sanctions on Tehran.

    On Saturday, Pence said the "time has come" for the US's European partners to "withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve".

    US President Donald Trump reimposed economic sanctions on Iran last year after pulling out of the landmark 2015 nuclear accord.

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    The deal, hammered out by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, is aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

    Despite Washington's ongoing efforts to isolate Tehran, the European Union is attempting to keep the nuclear deal alive and has developed a mechanism to open a channel to continue trade with Iran.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to reject Pence's calls on Saturday to withdraw from the deal.

    "Would cancelling the only remaining agreement with Iran help our common goal to contain its negative impact?" Merkel asked at the Munich conference.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies