Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Iranian President Hassan RouhaniReuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's attempt to blame western states for the rise of radical Islam in his speech to the UN General Assembly nearly backfired awkwardly when he used a racist Farsi expression - but was saved by a quick-thinking translator.

During the speech on Friday, Rouhani claimed that "certain Intelligence agencies have put the blade in the hand of the drunken Zangi" - a phrase referring to irresponsible and dangerous jihadi groups, which was translated simply as "madmen" by the translator (see 3:59 in video below).

But according to Iranian opposition blog azarmehr, the word "Zangi" is actually a derogatory term for black slaves from Zanzibar in Farsi.

His use of the term was apparently based on a line from a poem by ancient Persian Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi: "It is better to put a sword in the hand of an intoxicated negro than 'that knowledge' should fall to a worthless fool."

It is not the first time an Iranian president's comments have been the subject of dispute by translators.

In 2005, then-president and notorious holocaust-denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" at a conference entitled "A World Without Zionism". Iranian officials and other analysts insisted Ahmadinejad's comments were mistranslated - though others pointed out that the fact that the Iranian regime openly calls for an end to the State of Israel and actively funds terrorist groups committed to the Jewish state's destruction made the debate somewhat academic.