With the International Atomic Energy Agency set to hold another crucial meeting on Iran, Tehran proposed to send its own inspectors to investigate the veracity of the Auschwitz death camp.
At the meeting, scheduled for March 6, the nuclear watchdog agency is expected to decide whether to refer Iran’s nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council for possible punitive action. At a previous meeting, Tehran had been given one month to demonstrate some goodwill, but instead Iranian officials have restarted their country’s uranium enrichment program, prompting a blunt rebuttal by the three European countries that had tried to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. In addition, negotiations over a Russian proposal to enrich uranium outside Iran appeared to have collapsed this week.
With an international showdown fast approaching, Iran once again upset Jewish organizations and raised Western ire by questioning the Holocaust. This time, Iran proposed sending a team of investigators to conduct on-site inspections of Nazi concentration camps, in advance of a Tehran-sponsored conference to debate the “real scale of the Holocaust.”
The plan was quickly rejected by Polish Foreign Minister Stefan Miller.
“Under no circumstances should we permit this,” Miller told the Polish press agency PAP. “This is beyond all imaginable norms that such a thing is discussed.”
The Auschwitz-Birkenau museum said in a statement that it would not allow Iranian experts to visit the camp.
Jewish groups are calling for international action to punish the Iranian regime for its recent spate of Holocaust denial allegations.
The European Jewish Congress, meeting over the weekend in Vienna, voted in favor of filing a complaint in the International Criminal Court against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for allegedly inciting genocide. Ahmadinejad has made repeated remarks casting doubt on the veracity of the Holocaust and issued calls to wipe Israel off the map or move the Jewish state to Europe.
Observers noted that the court only deals with grave crimes such as genocide and said that the legal grounds for the complaint against Iran seemed shaky
In another step to increase pressure on Iran, the European Jewish Congress said in a statement that it is also planning to make a formal request soon to the European Parliament asking member states to declare Ahmadinejad “persona non grata.” The EJC’s chairman, Pierre Besnainou, said that Ahmadinejad’s repeated statements on the Holocaust violated European laws that make it a crime to deny the Nazi genocide.
The group is also circulating a petition to politicians, businessmen and intellectuals, to be published in European newspapers, calling on European governments to bar Ahmadinejad from their countries.
During a visit to Europe, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sought to tone down the rhetoric.
“Our friends in Europe stress that such a crime has taken place and they have stated certain figures that were actually suffered,” he told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. “We have no argument about that, but what we are saying here is — to put right such a horrific event, why should the Muslims pay a price?”
Mottaki also denied during a press conference in Brussels that Tehran wanted to see Israel “wiped off the map.”
“Nobody can remove a country from the map. This is a misunderstanding in Europe of what our president mentioned,” he said. “How is it possible to remove a country from the map? He is talking about the regime. We do not recognize legally this regime.”
Meanwhile, in the United States leaders of several Jewish organizations met last week with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to get an update on the Iran situation. Rice sought to convey the message that the administration was not ruling out any option against Iran, including the military one, according to participants in the meeting, which had been slated to discuss the recent upset victory by Hamas in the Palestinian elections.
Rice’s meeting took place the same day that she announced, in testimony to the Senate the Bush administration’s plan to spend more money to promote democracy in Iran. She said the administration would request an additional $75 million to fund pro-democracy efforts in Iran, a major increase from the $10 million currently allocated.
Two-thirds of the new money, $50 million, is earmarked for radio and television broadcasting into Iran, while $15 million will be geared toward supporting political dissidents, labor union leaders and human rights activists. Another $5 million each will go to promoting academic exchanges and to funding public diplomacy efforts.