Iran President Hasan Rouhani on Holocaust: "I condemn the massacre" but it's time to "separate" it from Israel's treatment of Palestinians

(CBS News) Iranian President Hasan Rouhani further distanced himself Thursday from his conservative predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not only acknowledging but condemning the Holocaust. He was keen to add, however, that the Nazi's brutal massacre of the Jews should be viewed in a "separate" light to the current crisis facing the Middle East.

"In principle, we and I condemn the massacre carried out by the Nazis in the World War II," Rouhani told Charlie Rose. "I'll also add that many groups were killed by the Nazis in the course of the war, Jews in specific, but there were also Christians, there were Muslims."

"I'll tell you that my government [and] I condemn the massacre, the killing of people, any group. I'll tell you that when an innocent person is killed, we never go about asking or inquiring whether they were Jewish or Christian or Muslim. That's not our way or creed. We simply say that we condemn any killing, any massacre, and therefore we condemn the massacre of the Jewish people by the Nazis, as we also condemn the other massacres that took place in the course of the war."

"Why would I want to deny it?" Rouhani asked. "Not only do I (not) deny the criminal acts of the Nazis, we condemn it."

However, Rouhani said the Holocaust suggested that the killing of 6 million Jews almost seven decades ago must be not be a factor in considerations of the current crisis facing the region.

"Given that we live in the Middle East, we feel the impact of what took place in World War II today in our region," he said.

"We think that it's time to really separate that event from what's happening to a group of people now in the Middle East who've lost their homes, who have been discriminated against, who have gone through some of the worst kinds of torture that no one -- even the Jewish people -- would want to see."

While he did not mention Israel or the Palestinians by name, it was a clear reference to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Israel, which considers Iran a direct threat to its existence, has dismissed Rouhani's overtures inviting dialogue, and insists that in spite of his calls for moderation, the Islamic Republic continues to work towards a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies a pursuit of atomic weapons, saying its nuclear program is entirely aimed at research and producing electricity.