Anti-Semitic accusations from Iran's First Vice-President, who accused Jews of running the global narcotics trade and systemically murdering black babies, has sparked a new international furor, just as Tehran was attempting to be taken seriously at negotiations over its nuclear program and the worsening crisis in Syria.
First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi is a controversial figure, inside and outside Iran. A long-time buddy and close ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he filled in briefly for the outspoken and controversial President, who has also attracted international condemnation for inflammatory remarks about Israel and Jews. Mr. Rahimi is also facing corruption charges.
While the title "vice-president" sounds impressive, Mr. Rahimi isn't regarded as a powerful player in Tehran byzantine theocracy. Rather he is considered a crony and appointee of the President. For instance, he isn't among those seen as likely contenders to run for the presidency next year. It remains unclear whether the corruption investigation will end his career as a public official.
Opponents of the regime have also publicly questioned some of Mr. Rahimi's biographical claims, including that he earned a doctorate at Oxford.
But Mr. Rahimi, a former governor of Kurdistan, put himself squarely in the international spotlight with a speech laden with offensive and bizarre claims. So far, Iran's top leadership hasn't disowned them.
"Behind all forms of corruption, there is the repugnant face of Zionists," Mr. Rahimi said. Top Iranian leaders routinely refer to Israel as the "Zionist entity."
The brouhaha erupted earlier this week when Mr. Rahimi gave the opening speech in Tehran to an UN-sponsored conference on illegal drugs. Among his more outrageous claims was that the "spread of narcotics in the world emanates from the teachings of the Talmud … whose objective is the destruction of the world."
Canada's Foreign Minister, John Baird, was among those condemning the Iranian Vice-President for the latest outburst from Tehran's ruling theocracy.
"Iran's ongoing use of UN forums to harass Israel and insult Jewish people around the world is completely unacceptable;" Mr. Baird said.
"Canada hopes the international community joins us in speaking out against, and utterly rejecting, such ridiculous and anti-Semitic assertions."
Shadi Paveh, a Canadian spokeswoman for Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran and long-standing critic of the Tehran regime, said:
"The seething, pathological hatred underlying such preposterous, racist assertions reveals once again the sinister nature of a regime that has taken lives with impunity, at home and abroad, and represents a continuing threat to the safety and stability of its own citizens, and the world."
In the same speech, Mr. Rahimi also accused Zionists of starting the 1917 Russian revolution (although he said they managed to avoid a single Jew being killed), murdering black babies and various other nefarious schemes.
His comments were distributed by Iran's hard-line Fars news agency and appeared on the official presidential website.
Iranian officials have previously accused Israeli agents of selling cut-price narcotics in Iran to undermine social cohesion but Mr. Rahimi's accusatory comments went far beyond that.
Tehran is waging a major domestic campaign against rampant and increasing drug abuse with efforts ranging from street clinics and methadone substitution to hanging traffickers in public as a grim deterrent.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's Foreign Affairs Representative, said she was "deeply disturbed" by the "racist and anti-Semitic statements made by Iranian First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi."
Both EU and UN senior officials attended the speech, as did diplomatic envoys based in Tehran.
For Iran, the latest outburst from a top official and the resulting international condemnation come at a delicate time.
Iran is facing a tough new round of sanctions, including sharp cuts in oil sales to key customers such as China, India and major European importers.
So far, several rounds of talks with the major powers have failed to resolve the ongoing dispute over Tehran's controversial nuclear program but Iran wants talks to continue.