Iran's President Hassan Rouhani is being accused of threatening President Trump with assassination in a speech he gave this past week ahead of the one-year anniversary of the killing of popular Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3rd, 2020 in Baghdad.
It all appears to be based on a mistranslation from the Farsi of Rouhani's words while he addressed a cabinet session on Wednesday. In a widely shared article The Washington Times quoted the Iranian president as saying, "Trump will soon be dead." The report claimed that this was a clear death threat, also given Rouhani made a comparison to the Saddam Hussein's demise.
But Iran's leaders are now slamming this as but more "anti-Iran bigotry" designed to escalate tensions as a pretext for preemptive military action against the Islamic Republic. Tehran has called The Washington Times report a deliberate mistranslation based in "fake news".
"Cowardice in assassinating foreign leaders is a US-Israeli trademark; NOT Iranian," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzade tweeted Friday evening, strenuously denying all accusations of an Iranian plot to target the US president.
"@WashTimes should know better than to publish #FakeNews & spread anti-Iran bigotry -even though it has featured PAID content by the outlaw MeK terrorist cult," the Foreign Ministry spokesman added. "Your readers deserve better!"
This "misunderstanding" comes after past weeks of Iran's civilian and military leadership vowing future "vengeance" for the assassination of Gen. Soleimani, who headed the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Here's how Iranian media presented (presumably correctly) Rouhani's words translated into English:
Addressing a cabinet session on Wednesday, Rouhani said: "I said it once, and I repeat it, Trump was like Saddam. Saddam imposed eight years of war against us and he was overthrown, and Trump imposed three years of economic war against us and he will be overthrown in the next few weeks, not just from office but from [political] life."
"One of the effects of the stupid and disgraceful act of assassinating Martyr Soleimani was that Trumpism ended, and in a few days, this murder's mandate is drawing to an end and he will go down into the dustbin of history," Rouhani added.
Cowardice in assassinating foreign leaders is a US-Israeli trademark; NOT Iranian.@WashTimes should know better than to publish #FakeNews & spread anti-Iran bigotry -even though it has featured PAID content by the outlaw MeK terrorist cult.— Saeed Khatibzadeh (@SKhatibzadeh) January 1, 2021
Your readers deserve better! https://t.co/f8OrGEu4cm pic.twitter.com/FxuYqbp2IE
This isn't the first time that a mistranslation of the words of Iran's leadership had led to increased tensions.
Arash Norouzi of the Mossadegh Project noted in 2007 that Ahmadinejad "never... uttered the words 'map,' 'wipe out,' or even 'Israel'" in his statement. Rather, he argued, the translation should have been that "this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time." (Both The Washington Post and The Atlantic came up with similarly variant translations.)
This is a key difference, Mr. Norouzi argued, because Ahmadinejad used the "vanish from the page of time" idiom elsewhere in his speech: when describing the governments of the Shah of Iran, the Soviet Union, and Saddam Hussein. While war and revolution were involved in the three regimes' collapse, none of them, Norouzi argued, were "wiped off the map." Rather, they underwent regime change. This suggests in turn, he said, that Ahmadinejad was calling for regime change in Israel, not nuclear genocide. Juan Cole, another critic of the speech's translation, compared Ahmadinejad's statement to Reagan-era calls for the end of the Soviet Union.
Critics of the mistranslation also point out the former president had been referencing Zionism as a political movement as well.
The "wipe Israel of the map" words have been used endlessly by hawks arguing for preemptive action against Iran to prevent their achieving nuclear weapons capabilities.