Iranian Prime Minister Ebrahim Raisi is known for representing ultra-conservative, sometimes crude, views. In the US interview format "60 Minutes", the 61-year-old recently got carried away into questioning the existence of the Holocaust. When asked by CBS journalist Leslie Stahl if he believed the Nazi regime's systematic murder of more than six million Jews took place, Raisi replied, according to the translation, "Historical events should be studied by researchers and historians. There are some indication that this has happened. If so, they should allow it to be investigated and explored."
The question arose when Stahl confronted the president with allegations that he was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people by hanging in the 1980s on orders from Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1988, at the time of the so-called "Khomeini massacres", Raisi was Deputy Attorney General of Tehran and, according to the Israeli newspaper "Jerusalem Post", a member of the "Tehran Death Committee".
Stahl also wanted to know whether he at least recognized Israel's right to exist. "You see, the people of Palestine are the reality. This is the right of the Palestinian people who have been forced to leave their homes and their motherland. Americans support this false regime to take root and establish themselves there," answer Raisi. Any state that "shakes hands with the Zionist regime" is an "accomplice in its crimes," said the head of government.
Israeli politicians reacted with outrage to Raisi's statements. Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Jair Lapid, himself the son of a Holocaust survivor, posted photos of concentration camps on Twitter under the caption "Some Signs".
As CBS reports, the one-hour interview took place last Tuesday on the premises of the President's Office in Tehran. It was the first time Raisi had spoken to a Western journalist since his appointment.
Iran is in one of the worst economic crises in its history. The USA tightened the massive sanctions, which had been partially relaxed under President Obama, after the unilateral withdrawal from the agreement under the presidency of Donald Trump. Raisi himself is also on a US sanctions list of people whose assets could be frozen and whose participation in international banking could be made more difficult.
Last month, talks on a renewed nuclear deal came close to agreement but faltered again after new demands from Tehran. "If there is no guarantee, then there is no trust," Raisi explained in the CBS interview. Although Raisi is expected at the UN General Assembly in New York, there are no plans to meet US President Joe Biden.
Raisi's trip to the US is likely to be overshadowed by the death of 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini. The young woman was arrested by the moral and religious police on Tuesday during a family visit in the capital Tehran because of her "un-Islamic" outfit and taken to a police station. According to the police, she fainted and then fell into a coma due to heart failure. Her death was confirmed on Friday. Since then, the Iranian government has been in need of explanations - there has also been a lot of dismay and protest internationally.
Sources: "CBS"; "Jerusalem Post"; dpa