What did Iran's Rouhani call Israel?


Iranian president-elect Hassan Rowhani (C) takes part in a parade marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Day in Tehran on August 2, 2013.



News reports out of the Middle East on Friday illustrated the dangers of misquotation, especially in the arena of foreign relations.

Just ahead of his inauguration, Iran's president-elect Hassan Rouhani was quoted by Iranian state media saying that Israel was a "wound that... needs to be removed."

Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Rouhani saying, "The Zionist regime has been a wound on the body of the Islamic world for years and the wound should be removed."

The Associated Press noted, not inaccurately, that Rouhani's "remarks about Israel — his country's arch enemy — echoed longstanding views of other Iranian leaders."

As if to illustrate that point, Iran's outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left Israel with a parting shot Friday. "I will inform you with God as my witness, a devastating storm is on the way that will uproot the basis of Zionism," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Rouhani's remarks, with a fiery, if familiar, statement:

"Rowhani's true face has been revealed earlier than expected. Even if they will now rush to deny his remarks, this is what the man thinks and this is the plan of the Iranian regime. These remarks by President Rowhani must rouse the world from the illusion that part of it has been caught up in since the Iranian elections. The president there has changed but the goal of the regime has not: To achieve nuclear weapons in order to threaten Israel, the Middle East and the peace and security of the entire world. A country that threatens the destruction of the State of Israel must not be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction."

However, the statement Netanyahu was responding to turned out to be a misquotation.

What Rouhani actually said was (as translated by The New York Times' Thomas Erdbrink):

"The day of Quds, which is one of the mementos of the Imam [Khomeini], may he be admitted to God’s paradise, is the day that the people display the unity of the Islamic world against any form of tyranny and aggression. In any case, in our region, a sore has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years, in the shadow of the occupation of the Holy Land of Palestine and the dear Quds. This day is in fact a reminder of the fact that Muslim people will not forgot their historic right and will continue to stand against aggression and tyranny."

There's no mention of a "cancerous tumor" or removal. Iranian state television, Press TV, said news agencies "distorted" Rowhani's remarks.

While it remains unclear where the mistake happened, the incident doesn't herald a good beginning for relations between Netanyahu and the moderate cleric who will be inaugurated as Iran's president on Sunday.

Here is a video of Rouhani's statement, in Farsi: