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Inskeep Discusses Ahmadinejad Interview


For just a moment today, the president of Iran seemed to admit the existence of the Holocaust. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York, where many diplomats walked out of his speech at the United Nations. That's partly because of repression after Iran's disputed election, but it was also because Ahmadinejad has repeatedly questioned the genocide of millions of Jews during World War II. Last week in Iran, he called the Holocaust a myth. Today, he sat down with NPR's Steve Inskeep, who is with us from New York now. So Steve, what happened? Does the president of Iran just not think it's a myth anymore - what did he say?

STEVE INSKEEP: Well, he certainly didn't recant anything he'd said before, but he continued this constant shifting of terms that he's employed for years on this issue, using different words depending on his audience - or sometimes, it seems, the time of day. What we're going to hear is a classic example. We asked about this now, since Ahmadinejad did deny the Holocaust just the other day. And some analysts were wondering why he brought up the subject again just now, amid widespread protest at home. Let's listen.

Are you trying to distract from your political problems?

President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Through Translator) Whatever anyone says could basically be said that - is being used to distract others. And you can't really prove that. I mean, it's hard.

INSKEEP: Before coming to this conversation, I spoke with Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Prize winner, Holocaust survivor, and author of a book that I would recommend to you, called "Night," which is his description of his family's murder and his own near death in the Holocaust.

Mr. Wiesel described you as the number one Holocaust denier in the world. Are you proud of such a distinction?

Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) I have no opinion about what people and others think about me. It doesn't matter. But would you like to hear my views on the Holocaust? Are you willing to hear it?

INSKEEP: If you would like to describe to me what specifically you believe happened between 1942 and 1945, I would be interested.

Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) The first question is, is the Holocaust an historical event or not? It is a historical event. So the next question is, why is it that this specific event has become so prominent?

INSKEEP: Are you acknowledging that millions of people were killed, millions of Jews, specifically…

Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: …were killed during World War II?

Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Well, I personally was not alive 60 years ago. I happen to be alive now. And I can see that genocide is happening now under the pretext of an event that happened 60 years ago. So, the fundamental question I raise here is that if this event happened, where did it happen? A couple of academics in Europe were actually prosecuted because of it and arrived at conclusions other than what was said by the officials and by the, you know, official channels…

INSKEEP: These are not official channels. These are thousands of survivors who witnessed the deaths of their family.

Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Well, these are claims.

BRAND: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking through an interpreter in New York today with NPR's Steve Inskeep, who is here now. And Steve, it sounds like he's just taken every possible position. First, he says it's a myth, the Holocaust, then an historical event and finally, he sounds very vague - who knows about these claims.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And as he himself points out, we can't prove what he's doing here, but he is playing to an Iranian audience at the same time as he's playing to an Arab audience and a Western audience, and it may get hard to keep his story straight, Madeleine.

BRAND: Now, this is the second time that you have interviewed him. You interviewed him a year ago, when he was in New York.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm, that's true.

BRAND: And what was it like, meeting him again?

INSKEEP: Well, I had learned more since then because I'd been to Iran since then. And we're going to talk more about that tomorrow on MORNING EDITION because in February, I was in Iran. I spoke with many people. I learned a lot about the country. And some of the people who are most informative to me then have been arrested since and thrown in prison. And so I asked the president about that.

BRAND: And we look forward to hearing that tomorrow on MORNING EDITION. NPR's Steve Inskeep, thank you.

INSKEEP: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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