Thursday, October 27, 2005

Iran leader's comments condemned


Thursday, 27 October 2005

There has been widespread condemnation of a call by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

The UK, France, Spain and Canada are summoning Iranian diplomats to demand an explanation for the remark.

The US said the comment highlighted concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, which Washington suspects is being used to develop weapons.

Iran says its programme is for peaceful purposes only.

Mr Ahmadinejad made his comments at a conference in Tehran entitled The World without Zionism, the official Irna news agency reported.

Western governments are bound to see it as further proof that Iran's hardline president is disinclined to curb his country's controversial nuclear programme, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says.

They may hope that a co-ordinated diplomatic protest will help step up the pressure, she says.

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report last month said questions about Iran's nuclear programme remained unanswered, despite an intensive investigation.

The UK, France, Germany and the US are pressing Iran to provide more access to its nuclear plans.


"If these comments are true, they are unacceptable. I condemn them with the greatest firmness," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.

A British Foreign Office described the comments as "deeply disturbing and sickening".

"We have seen in Israel today the horrible reality of the violence he (Mr Ahmadinejad) is praising," a FO spokesman said, referring to a Palestinian suicide attack on Wednesday in the Israeli town of Hadera that killed five people and injured up to 30 others.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr Ahmadinejad's opinion "just reconfirms what we have been saying about the regime in Iran. It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear operations."

Spain, Canada and Germany also condemned Mr Ahmadihejad's comments. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom his country regarded Iran as "a clear and present danger".

Mr Shalom said it was clear that Iran was trying to develop a programme to make nuclear weapons.

'World oppressor'

Mr Ahmadinejad told some 3,000 students in Tehran that Israel's establishment was "a move by the world oppressor (the West) against the Islamic world".

Referring to Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map."

Correspondents say this was the first time in years that such a high-ranking Iranian official had called for Israel's eradication, although such slogans are still regularly used at regime rallies.

Mr Ahmadinejad warned leaders of Muslim nations who recognised the state of Israel that they "face the wrath of their own people".

He added: "Anyone who signs a treaty which recognises the entity of Israel means he has signed the surrender of the Muslim world."

Mr Ahmadinejad came to power earlier this year, replacing Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who attempted to improve Iran's relations with the West.


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