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Iran position on Holocaust doesn’t signal thaw with Israel

The Iranian foreign minister condemned the Holocaust as a "heinous crime" Sunday in what was seen as the latest step by Iran to improve its hostile relations with the U.S.

In an interview on ABC's "This Week" interview show, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the Holocaust "a genocide," and explained that the Iranian supreme leader's previous description of it as a "myth" was the result of a poor translation.

"The Holocaust is not a myth. Nobody's talking about a myth," Mr. Zarif said when asked about the quote. "If it's there, it's a bad translation, and it's translated out of context. This is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English, you may lose something, as the film goes, 'Lost in Translation,' you may lose some of the meaning. This has been unfortunately the case several times over."

But that doesn't mean a thaw with Israel is imminent, he said. "The point is, we condemn the killing of innocent people, whether it happened in Nazi Germany or whether it's happening in Palestine," said Mr. Zarif.

His statements come after a stunning week in the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, culminating in a 15-minute phone call Friday between President Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. The exchange marked the first contact between top leaders of the two nations since 1979.

Tensions have run high in recent years over Iran's aggressive pursuit of nuclear-enrichment facilities, but Mr. Zarif said Sunday that the Middle Eastern nation is prepared to negotiate over some aspects of the program.

That doesn't include enrichment. "Our right to enrich is non-negotiable," said Mr. Zarif, but added, "We do not need military-grade uranium. That is a certainty and we will not move in that direction."

What Iran wants from the United States is a lifting of economic and banking sanctions, he said. "Sanctions are not a useful tool of implementing policy and the United States needs to change that," he said.

Since his election in June, Mr. Rouhani has embarked on what has been described as a charm offensive with the West. He visited the U.N. General Assembly last week while Mr. Zarif met Thursday with Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

"We believe that if the United States is ready to recognize Iran's rights, to respect Iran's rights, then we have a real chance," Mr. Zarif said.

Skepticism remains high over Iran's willingness to submit to international monitoring and surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities, but Mr. Zarif insisted that developing nuclear weapons isn't the objective.

"Having an Iran that does not have nuclear weapons is not just your goal," he said. "It's first and foremost our goal."

Comments by Iranian leaders about the "myth" of the Holocaust are frequently raised as evidence of Iran's continued hostility toward Israel. As president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust, while Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamanei used the phrase "the myth of the massacre of Jews," according to a translation from a 2006 speech.

Will that phrase be changed? "I'll talk to them," said Mr. Zarif.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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