TEHRAN - Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fought back against increasingly scathing criticism from hardliners, saying Tuesday that his pragmatic approach to diplomacy had stolen Israel's thunder.
After years of bellicose rhetoric from ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Zarif said the new government had managed to put an end to Israel's portrayal of Iran "as a danger" over its nuclear ambitions.
Ultra-conservatives have upped the ante in recent weeks by chastising an interim nuclear deal Iran struck with world powers in November, under Zarif's brief as the top negotiator.
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Comprised of religious figures, former lawmakers and officials as well as some incumbent MPs, the critics are also unhappy about Zarif's more moderate foreign policy, including what they call his "reactionary stance towards the bastard (Israeli) Zionist regime and the Holocaust."
The incumbent lawmakers - particularly those in Iran's national security and foreign policy commission - are pressuring Zarif, taking him to the parliament floor and questioning him.
At such a session Tuesday, Zarif spoke about Israel, whose existence Tehran does not recognize, Iranian media reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin "Netanyahu shamelessly makes a scene saying Iran denies the Holocaust, Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb to carry out another Holocaust," Zarif said.
"But my colleagues and I are telling the world Iran is opposed to anti-Semitism and genocide," he said.
The remarks contrast with Ahmadinejad's, whose denials of the Holocaust and expressions of hope for the destruction of Israel pushed the two foes ever further apart.
It also resulted in global condemnation of Tehran and paved the way for sanctions over Iran's nuclear drive.