* Says "Zionists" tipped off in advance about 2001 attacks
* Hardline Iranian leader again denies Holocaust
* Comments come as U.S., Iran look for possible talks
By Robin Pomeroy and Ramin Mostafavi
TEHRAN, Aug 7 Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad said on Saturday the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were
exaggerated in a fresh broadside at the United States just days
after President Barack Obama voiced willingness to talk to Iran.
Well-known for his anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric,
the hardline populist Ahmadinejad also repeated his denial of
the Holocaust, on which the consensus of historians is that six
million Jews were exterminated by Nazi Germany.
Ahmadinejad said the Sept. 11 attacks with hijacked
airliners on New York and Washington D.C. had been trumped up as
an excuse for the United States to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.
Speaking at a Tehran conference, Ahmadinejad said there was
no evidence that the death toll at New York's World Trade
Center, destroyed in the attacks, was as high as reported and
said "Zionists" had been tipped off in advance.
"What was the story of Sept. 11? During five to six days,
and with the aid of the media, they created and prepared public
opinion so that everyone considered an attack on Afghanistan and
Iraq as (their) right," he said in a televised speech.
No "Zionists" were killed in the World Trade Center,
according to Ahmadinejad, because "one day earlier they were
told not go to their workplace".
"They announced that 3,000 people were killed in this
incident, but there were no reports that reveal their names.
Maybe you saw that, but I did not," he told a gathering of the
Iranian news media.
There is a published list of Sept. 11 dead from more than 90
countries available online.
A total of 2,995 people were killed in the attacks,
including 19 hijackers and all passengers and crew aboard four
commandeered airliners, according to official U.S. figures. The
United States blamed the assaults on al Qaeda, led by Saudi-born
Sunni Muslim fundamentalist Osama Bin Laden.
Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. government of exercising more
media censorship than anywhere in the world.
He had previously said the "9-11" attacks were a "big
fabrication" and has rejected the historical record of the
Holocaust. On Saturday, Ahmadinejad repeated his belief that the
Holocaust had been invented to justify the creation of Israel.
"They made up an event, the so-called Holocaust which was
later laid as the basis for the innocence of a group," he said.
Ahmadinejad last week challenged Obama to a televised debate
on global issues during his trip to the United Nations General
Assembly in New York in September. [ID:nLDE6710SG]
Two years ago he asked to visit the site of the World Trade
Center "to pay his respects" but New York police refused.
Washington succeeded in June in getting a fourth round of
U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Iran to pressure it
to suspend its disputed nuclear programme.
Tougher U.S. and European measures have further tightened
restrictions on doing business with the major OPEC country.
Obama signalled on Thursday he was open to talks with the
Islamic Republic and was seeking "a clear set of steps that we
would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing
nuclear weapons". [nN05148192]
Ahmadinejad has said he is prepared to return to
international talks, which were last held in October, but
insists that Iran has the sovereign right to enrich uranium.
Western powers fear the Islamic Republic aims to stockpile
the material for possible use, when more highly enriched, in
nuclear weapons, and U.N. nuclear inspectors cite indications
that Iran is researching how to build a nuclear-tipped missile.
Tehran says it is refining uranium only for electricity and
Israel considers the combination of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust
denial and his pursuit of nuclear technology a potential threat
to its existence and has said it does not rule out military
action to prevent Iran developing atomic bombs.
A Washington-based think-tank with access to intelligence
said on Friday Iran had begun using recently installed equipment
to enrich uranium more efficiently, a step it said could be
justified nominally on civilian grounds but in fact made more
sense in the context of learning how to make bomb-grade uranium.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)