President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, visiting the United Nations this week for the first time, intensified efforts on Wednesday to dispel suspicions about his country's intentions, asserting in a CNN interview that he condemned the Holocaust and that he bore "greetings to the people of America who are very dear and near to the hearts of the Iranian people."
Mr. Rouhani, whose attendance at the annual meeting of the General Assembly is receiving extraordinary scrutiny because he has hinted at a reconciliation with the United States, also confirmed in the interview that there had been talks and some preparation with the Americans to arrange a handshake encounter with President Obama on Tuesday while both leaders were at the United Nations for speaking engagements.
Such an encounter would have bridged more than three decades of Iranian-American estrangement, but it never took place. Obama administration officials said later that the Iranians declined to go ahead with the encounter for their own internal political reasons, reflecting the possible offense such symbolism might still cause in Iran, where the United States has been denounced as the "Great Satan" since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
"The United States declared its interest in having such a meeting and in principle could have, under certain circumstances, allowed it to happen," Mr. Rouhani said in the interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "But I believe we didn't have sufficient time to really coordinate the meeting."
The CNN interview, recorded on Tuesday and broadcast on Wednesday, was part of an energetic publicity campaign by Mr. Rouhani to distinguish himself from his bombastic predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was known in the West for denigrating Israel's right to exist, denying the Holocaust and criticizing what he routinely described as the West's doomed imperialist agenda.
Unlike Mr. Ahmadinejad's annual addresses to the General Assembly, Mr. Rouhani's remarks on Tuesday were considered relatively mild. Though he recited a litany of Iranian grievances with the West, most notably the unresolved dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions and the sanctions that have deeply affected the Iranian economy, Mr. Rouhani did not make the kind of strident denunciations that caused the mass diplomatic walkouts provoked by his predecessor.
Asked in the CNN interview about his view of the Holocaust, Mr. Rouhani said, "Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable.
"Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn," he said. "The taking of human life is contemptible. It makes no difference whether that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim. For us it is the same."
At the same time, Mr. Rouhani also condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, without referring to Israel by name. Repudiating crimes like the Holocaust, he said, "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."
Iran's Fars News Agency, which is run by the conservative Revolutionary Guards, later accused CNN of fabricating Mr. Rouhani's response to the Holocaust question, which may have been an attempt to embarrass him -- a possible reflection of the sensitive domestic politics of Mr. Rouhani's outreach to Jews. Three weeks ago, Fars also denied that Mr. Rouhani had sent a New Year's greeting to Jews around the world via his Twitter account, although he had.
CNN stood by the translation of Mr. Rouhani's interview, asserting that the translator it used had been hired by the Iranians.
The CNN interview was one component of Mr. Rouhani's busy agenda of meetings and other public appearances while in New York this week, including a forum to be held on Thursday by the Asia Society and the Council on Foreign Relations.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.