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Schroeder in Iran says 'Holocaust a fact'

AFP, February 21, 2009

T TEHRAN (AFP) Germany's former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Saturday criticised Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for doubting the Holocaust but said the new Obama administration was a "good opportunity" for Tehran to ease tension with the West, local news agencies reported.

During a speech at the Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce Schroeder said that the Holocaust was a "historical fact" and that there was no sense in denying such an "unparalleled crime."

Borna news agency, an affiliate of the state-run IRNA news agency, said Schroeder criticised Ahmadinejad who has stirred global outrage with his anti-Israel comments and for repeatedly calling the Holocaust a "myth."

The report said that Schroeder emphasised that if Iran wants to be recognised as a regional and international power, it should assume some responsibility and respect international law.

Schroeder's comments came hours before he was due to meet Ahmadinejad.

The former German chancellor also said Iran had an opportunity to ease tensions with the West.

"With the new US administration there is a chance of having a multilateral approach, not only with the Islamic world but with everybody... That is a good opportunity for Iran," Mehr news agency quoted him as saying in his speech.

Tehran and Western powers are currently on a collision course over Iran's controversial nuclear programme. The West suspects the programme is aimed at acquiring atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

During his presidential campaign, Obama called for dialogue with Iran. That was a clear shift from former president George W. Bush, who rejected talks unless Iran halted uranium enrichment, the process that makes fuel for nuclear power plants but can also be used for the core of an atomic bomb.

Last month, Obama said "if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fists, they will find an extended hand from us."

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