TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran is "friends with the Israeli people", a deputy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, in stark contrast to Tehran's usual verbal assaults against the Jewish state, local media reported on Sunday.
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, vice president in charge of tourism and one of Ahmadinejad's closest confidants, also described the people of Iran's arch-enemy the United States as "one of the best nations in the world".
"Today, Iran is friends with the American and Israeli people. No nation in the world is our enemy, this is an honour," Rahim Mashaie said, according to the Fars news agency and Etemad newspaper.
"Of course we have enemies and the most unfair hostilities are committed against the Iranian people," he said on the sidelines of a tourism congress in Tehran.
"We regard the American people as one of the best nations in the world."
Ahmadinejad has earned international notoriety for his frequent verbal assaults against Israel, which he has described as a "stinking corpse" and predicted is doomed to disappear.
Rahim Mashaie is one of the figures closest to the president in the Iranian government. This was emphasised earlier this year when his daughter married Ahmadinejad's son.
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said that Iran is ready to talk to all countries except the "Zionist regime", Tehran's usual description for Israel.
"An unexpected statement: Mashaie talks about friendship with the people of Israel?!" was the headline on the conservative Tabnak news website.
The website said it was all the more surprising he had made the comment when much of Ahmadinejad's popularity in the Arab world stems from his hostility towards Israel and the United States.
This is not the first time Rahim Mashaie has been involved in controversy. He was sharply criticised by MPs for allegedly watching a Turkish woman dance while at a tourism congress in Turkey.
The Islamic republic has repeatedly vowed never to recognise Israel, which was an ally of pro-US shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ousted by the 1979 Islamic revolution.
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