ATHENS, Greece – European leaders threatened sanctions against Iran for its president's remarks about Israel and the Holocaust, even as the regime's interior minister said Friday the widely condemned comments were "misunderstood" by Western governments.
Leaders at a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, will adopt a statement Friday condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent comments describing the Holocaust as a "myth" and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
"These comments are wholly unacceptable and have no place in civilized political debate," the draft statement said.
EU leaders warned Tehran they will review the diplomatic options for possible sanctions because of Iran's recent "provocative political moves." The statement comes days before EU envoys resume talks with Iran on its nuclear program.
Meanwhile, Iran Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi told The Associated Press that Ahmadinejad's comments were "misunderstood" by the West.
Speaking on the sidelines of an Athens, Greece, immigration conference, Pourmohammadi said: "Actually the case has been misunderstood. (Ahmadinejad) did not mean to raise this matter."
Ahmadinejad "wanted to say that if others harmed the Jewish community and created problems for the Jewish community, they have to pay the price themselves. People like the Palestinian people or other nations should not pay the price (for it).
"A historical incident has occurred. Correct or not correct. We don't want to launch research or carry out historical investigation about it," he said without elaborating.
Ahmadinejad's comments Wednesday drew quick condemnations from Israel, the United States and Europe, which warned he is hurting Iran's position in talks aimed at resolving suspicions about his regime's nuclear program.
Denying the Holocaust — in which 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis — is a crime in several European nations.
In remarks carried live by state television and repeated several times, Ahmadinejad said during a tour of southeastern Iran on Wednesday that if Europeans insist the Holocaust occurred, then they are responsible and should pay the price.
"Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets," Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in Zahedan. "If you committed this big crime, then why should the oppressed Palestinian nation pay the price?
"This is our proposal: If you committed the crime, then give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to them so that the Jews can establish their country," he said.
In October, he provoked an international outcry by calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
German lawmakers Friday unanimously condemned Ahmadinejad's remarks, urging the Berlin government to keep the pressure on Tehran to change course.
Inside Iran, moderates have called on the Islamic cleric-led regime to rein in the president. Ahmadinejad's election in June sealed the long decline of Iran's reform movement, which had largely dropped the harsh anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. rhetoric of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and sought to build international ties.
The international community has condemned Ahmadinejad's remarks. The White House said his words "only underscore why it is so important that the international community continue to work together to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons."
Envoys from Germany, France and Britain are to resume negotiations Dec. 21 with Iran over its nuclear program. The United States and Europe maintain Iran is trying to develop atomic bombs, while Iran maintains its program is for generating electricity.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said the comments illustrated "the mind-set of the ruling clique in Tehran and indicate clearly the extremist policy goals of the regime."
China, which maintains good relations with both Iran and Israel, said such remarks could undermine world stability.
"We are not in favor of any remarks detrimental to stability and peace," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday. "Israel is a sovereign state."
Moscow did not directly criticize Ahmadinejad but condemned any attempts to deny the Holocaust and said it was necessary to restate Russia's "principled position."
"Speculation on these themes runs contrary to the principles of the U.N. Charter and the opinion of the world community," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Arab governments appeared reluctant to condemn Ahmadinejad. In Saudi Arabia, government-controlled newspapers picked up the remarks from international news agencies but did not comment on them.