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A call for Israel to be 'wiped off the map'

Iranian president's comment assailed in Western nations

TEHRAN -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday that Israel should be ''wiped off the map," the official IRNA news agency reported, a statement that was roundly condemned by three European powers and Canada.

''Israel must be wiped off the map," Ahmadinejad told a conference called ''The World without Zionism," attended by about 3,000 conservative students who chanted ''Death to Israel" and ''Death to America."

Under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, whose eight-year tenure ended earlier this year, Iran had shown signs of easing its implacable hostility toward Israel.

But Ahmadinejad, a former member of the hard-line Revolutionary Guards and religious conservatives, said there could be no letup in its hostility to Israel.

''The Islamic world will not let its historic enemy live in its heartland," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Washington took such remarks seriously. ''It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear intentions," he told reporters.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking nuclear arms, but Tehran says it needs atomic fuel only for power stations. Iran has developed ballistic missiles able to hit Israel.

France, Spain, Britain, and Canada condemned the president's remarks and the European trio said their foreign ministries would summon Iranian envoys and demand an explanation.

''If these [reported] comments are true, they are unacceptable. I condemn them with the greatest firmness," French Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy said in a statement.

''Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has expressed his rejection in the most emphatic terms and has decided to urgently call in the Iranian ambassador to ask him for an explanation," the Spanish foreign ministry said.

''[These] comments are deeply disturbing and sickening," a British Foreign Office spokesman said.

''We have seen in Israel today the horrible reality of the violence he is praising," he said, referring to a Palestinian suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Hadera that killed five people and wounded dozens.

Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew told reporters, ''We cannot tolerate comments of such hatred, such anti-Semitism, such intolerance. And these comments are all the more troubling given that we know of Iran's nuclear ambitions."

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