Reports that Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president, described President Donald Trump's administration as one "afflicted with mental retardation" may have been based on a translation error that made Iran seem more aggressive.
The Associated Press reported that Rouhani said in a live TV speech Tuesday: "The White House is afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do."
Reuters, similarly, translated the phrase as: "They are suffering from mental disability. The White House actions mean it is mentally retarded."
The BBC originally reported the "mentally retarded" quote, but later revised it to say "mentally disabled."
The insulting quote now appears to have been a translation error.
According to BBC Monitoring, which monitors foreign-language media around the world, the literal translation of Rouhani's comments is: "They have become stricken with mental incapability. The White House has become stricken with mental disability."
Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan and Middle East expert, also wrote in a Wednesday blog post that Rouhani did not call Trump "mentally retarded."
Cole said there may not be an exact Persian phrase to mean that, and that the English translations given to Rouhani were excessively offensive.
The Persian phrase for "mental incapability" is "natavani-ye zehni," while "mental disability" is "ma'luliyat-e zehni," BBC Monitoring said.
Meanwhile, the closest Persian phrase for "retarded" is "aqab mande," which suggests the process of being slowed or delayed, the BBC said.
Trump slammed "Iran's very ignorant and insulting statement" hours after Rouhani's televised speech. It is not clear exactly what the president understood Rouhani to have said.
Rouhani's Tuesday speech came after Trump signed new sanctions against Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and eight of his top commanders.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated rapidly this month after the US accused Iran of destroying two oil tankers that had passed through the Strait of Hormuz and Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said it shot down a US drone.