WASHINGTON – The Bush administration condemned Iran on Tuesday for convening a conference of people who deny the Holocaust happened, calling the move "an affront to the entire civilized world."
The two-day event in Tehran was initiated by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The hard-line president has described the Holocaust as a "myth" and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.
"The gathering of Holocaust deniers in Tehran is an affront to the entire civilized world, as well as to the traditional Iranian values of tolerance and mutual respect," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. "The United States will continue to support those in Iran and elsewhere who seek to promote human rights and dignity, and will stand with them in their efforts to overcome oppression, injustice and tyranny."
Perino called it perverse for the Iranian regime to call into the question the historical fact of World War II atrocities.
International condemnation has poured in against the government-sponsored conference in Tehran, which has drawn Holocaust skeptics from around the world. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was "shocking beyond belief" and called the conference "a symbol of sectarianism and hatred."
The timing comes as President Bush has been prodded by a bipartisan commission to engage Iran in calming violence in Iraq, and idea Bush has been reluctant to embrace unless Iran suspends its nuclear weapons pursuits.
Ahmadinejad initiated the Holocaust conference, which began on Monday, in an attempt to bolster his image as a leader standing up to Israel, Europe and the United States — an image he has used to whip up support at home and abroad.
Organizers and participants touted the conference as a scholarly gathering aimed at discussing the Holocaust away from Western taboos and the restrictions imposed on scholars in Europe.
Israel's official Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, said the Tehran conference was "an effort to mainstream Holocaust denial" and "paint (an) extremist agenda with a scholarly brush."
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki dismissed the criticism as "predictable," telling delegates there was "no logical reason for opposing this conference."