UNITED NATIONS Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday called the Holocaust a "reprehensible" crime committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people but said it was up to historians to determine the scale of what happened.
"I am not a historian and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect," Rouhani told CNN when asked whether or not he believed, as did his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the Holocaust was a myth.
"But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable," he said, according to CNN's translation of his comments, during a visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly.
Israeli officials had sharply criticized Rouhani, a moderate cleric who has made diplomatic overtures to the West, for failing to renounce Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews. Rouhani had dodged the same question in an interview last week with NBC.
"Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews we condemn," Rouhani told CNN. "The taking of human life is contemptible. It makes no difference if that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim. For us it is the same."
But Rouhani went on to take a swipe against Iran's archfoe Israel, which was founded after World War Two as a Jewish state in part of what had been British-mandate Palestine.
"This does not mean that on the other hand you can say 'Nazis committed crimes against a group, now therefore they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it,'" he said. "This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an evenhanded discussion."
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Eric Beech)