A leading US Jewish group has written to German Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to take a tough stance against any plans by soccer-mad Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the World Cup.
The head of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote to Germany's leader on Monday after Iranian officials were quoted by media as saying their president would attend the football fiesta in Germany if Iran's team advances to the second stage.
"President Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust and called for the obliteration of the state of Israel," wrote Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center's founder and dean, in the letter to Merkel obtained by reporters.
"It is inconceivable that a head of state who advocates those policies would be received at a world sporting event by the same country where the Nuremburg Laws were proclaimed and where Adolf Hitler first enunciated his policies that led to the `Final Solution,'" Hier wrote.
"Such a visit would desecrate the memory of the millions murdered in the gas chambers and contradict the very foundation upon which the post-war Federal Republic of Germany was built," he added on behalf of the center's 400,000 members.
Hier said the outspoken Iranian leader's possible presence at the global gathering would give him a similar public platform to that Hitler assumed when he hosted the Berlin Olympics of 1936.
While as a head of state Ahmadinejad does not require an official invitation from Germany to accept the games, Hier said he believed Berlin had a "moral obligation to state publicly that his visit would be unwelcome."
"I feel that the international community, and in this case Germany as the host country, have to say something and it's not good enough to say they are hoping he won't come," Hier told reporters.
He added that it was unacceptable to say that any World Cup visit by Ahmadinejad would be a matter of sports, not politics.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Monday distanced world football's governing body from the brewing row, insisting it was not a soccer matter.
"Iran has qualified from the Asian zone and therefore their squad has been invited to the World Cup," Blatter said.
"Chancellor Angela Merkel was interviewed and she replied that the team has been invited by FIFA and all the qualified teams are welcome in Germany," he said.
"Everything else is politics. We are a sporting movement," Blatter said.
Ahmadinejad sparked worldwide controversy when he suggested the Holocaust was a "myth" and called for the destruction of Israel, prompting calls from several leading German politicians for Iran to be banned from the finals.