NEW YORK — As part of an ongoing effort to improve relations with the United States and reduce or eliminate sanctions against his country, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani formally acknowledged the existence of gay Israelis in an address before the U.N. Wednesday.
“We look forward to generating positive dialogues with the people of the United States and Israel, including those who are homosexual,” said Rouhani.
Rouhani’s on-the-record acknowledgement that homosexual Israelis do indeed exist is a watershed moment in Iranian foreign relations. Iran has received much criticism from human rights groups for its treatment of homosexuality. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, infamously denied the existence of gay Israelis during his term in office, once insisting that Jews do not experience sexual attraction and that they reproduce asexually.
Rouhani, widely seen as more moderate in Iran and abroad, has begun a series of overtures aimed at resolving Western concerns about the nation’s nuclear program, including denouncing the Holocaust and a proposed handshake photo-op with President Obama.
Experts believe his statements Monday are another, if less comprehensible, attempt to build inroads to negotiations with the West.
“While the Islamic Republic of Iran continues our denial that gay people exist within its borders, we admit that there are some in Israel, and possibly in other countries around the world,” Rouhani told the U.N. “Progress with the Israelis is paramount—no matter the specific reason why they will be going to Hell.”