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Analysis: A Pre-Staged Crisis?

"These sentiments are completely and totally unacceptable. I have never come across a situation where the president of a country says they want to wipe out another country - this is not acceptable."

Tehran (UPI) Oct 31, 2005
The Iranian president's recent remarks about Israel have touched off an international crisis with the Islamic republic and a vast part of the world entangled in a war of words.

Speaking Wednesday at a conference themed "The World Without Zionism," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recalled an earlier statement by the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that, "The Qods occupier regime (Israel) should be wiped off the earth."

"The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world. The Islamic world will not let its historic enemy live in its heartland," Ahmadinejad said in his comments which were the first time in years by a top Iranian official openly calling for Israel's destruction.

The world community expressed outrage at Ahmadinejad's controversial speech with many leaders from around the world strongly condemning his remarks.

In a statement issued Friday, leaders of the 25 European Union member states who had gathered at Hampton Court to debate Europe's response to globalization, "condemned in the strongest terms" the Iranian leader's words.

"Calls for violence, and for the destruction of any state, are manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community," they said.

In separate reactions, French President Jacques Chirac called Ahmadinejad's words "senseless and irresponsible," warning they "run the risk for his country of being left on the outside by other nations."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's remarks, however, were even more candid and angry when he said: "These sentiments are completely and totally unacceptable. I have never come across a situation where the president of a country says they want to wipe out another country -- this is not acceptable."

"I have been answering questions on Iran with everyone saying to me, tell us you are not going to do anything about Iran. If they carry on like this, the question people will be asking is, when are going to do something about it," Blair said.

U.N. chief Kofi Annan was equally upset when a statement, released by his spokesman, said, "The secretary general has read with dismay the remarks about Israel attributed to Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

"He recalls in particular that, under the United Nations Charter, all members have undertaken to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state," the statement said, reminding all member states that Israel is a long-standing United Nations member "with the same rights and obligations as every other member."

Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman, welcoming the act which came with a similar statement by the 15-member Security Council, said, "60 years after the Holocaust, another leader of a member state of the United Nations demands the destruction of another member state of the United Nations."

"This brings back very dark echoes from the past and we hope that this message will be heard loud and clear in Tehran."

But in the same reaction on Saturday, Iran's foreign ministry said: "The declaration published by the Security Council - proposed by the Zionist regime to cover its crimes and give an image at odds with reality - is unacceptable." The ministry, earlier, had ordered its diplomats to lodge official protests over what it called Europe's indifference toward "Zionist crimes."

It also expressed surprise that the Council had never condemned threats made against Iran by the United States and Israel or the "crimes" of the Israeli regime.

At the same time, and in an apparent bid to defuse the tension, the ministry insisted the Islamic republic had no intention of attacking the Jewish state.

"The Islamic republic of Iran is committed to its engagements based on the U.N. Charter and has never resorted to, nor threatened to resort to force against another country," the foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Meanwhile, the Vatican expressed "great concern" about the "particularly grave and unacceptable comments denying the right to existence of Israel".

Israeli politicians reacted in a much piercing voice with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calling for Iran to be expelled from the United Nations.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel would call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

"We have decided to open a broad diplomatic offensive," he said, denouncing what he called the "evil regime" in Tehran and urging the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Security Council to stop the Islamic republic from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors in September found Iran in non-compliance with the non-proliferation treaty, paving the way for the issue to be referred to the council.

The matter is to be taken up at the next IAEA board meeting in Vienna in late November.

But, in his speech, Ahmadinejad warned Muslim leaders against recognizing Israel, saying, "They would face the wrath of their own people."

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

Also, attending an anti-Israel rally in Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his remarks were "just" - and the criticism did not "have any validity."

"My words were the Iranian nation's words," he said, adding, "Westerners are free to comment, but their reactions are invalid."

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians took part in the rallies in Tehran and across the country which Iran organizes every year on the last Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

But not all was against Ahmadinejad. In Kano, northern Nigeria, some 25,000 Muslims turned out to support the Ahmadinejad call.

The Shiite demonstrators under the auspices of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria marched through the city, a hotbed of religious and ethnic strife in the country, chanting solidarity slogans.

"What Ahmadinejad said was very clear. Israel is an illegal state which was only created after the usurpation of the Palestinian homeland," their spokesman Mohammed Turi told reporters in front of the central mosque.

Iranian press, on the other hand, largely rejected the international criticism of Ahmadinejad's comments, with some reiterating the anti-Israel message during the Friday's pro-Palestinian demonstrations that the Jewish state should be wiped off the map.

But others were uneasy at the fresh diplomatic tension, with one paper highlighting former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's comments that Iran respected Jews and Judaism but opposed Israel's actions.

"Yesterday (Friday), the auspicious ceremonies in the entire world of Islam once again showed that the "Palestinian ideals" are alive and proved that the movement for the liberation of noble Jerusalem is on the right path," wrote the ultra-conservative Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper.

"The last point to make is none other than what Imam Khomeini said 27 years ago: Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth. If the U.S. administration is now furious that the president of the Islamic republic has repeated these words, it is because of the authenticity of this statement. In fact, the only way to resolve the Palestinian issue is to wipe Israel off the map," the paper added.

But, in a report on a sermon by Hashemi Rafsanjani in Tehran on Friday, the moderate English-language daily Iran News quoted the former president as having said that Iran respected both Jews and Judaism.

"We have no problems with Jews and highly respect Judaism as a holy religion," Rafsanjani told worshippers at the Friday prayers that was followed by anti-Israeli demonstrations throughout Iran.

Rafsanjani, according to the paper, said Iran would even co-operate in establishing peace and stability in the Middle East and reiterated Tehran's plan of a referendum involving all Palestinians, including refugees, choosing their future political fate in peaceful co-existence with the Jews.

Another newspaper Al-Vefaq, which is published in Arabic, wrote in its editorial titled "Words are punished, crimes forgotten": "Iran's stance on the illegitimacy of the Zionist entity is not new, since Tehran regards Palestine as occupied by an extremist Zionist group that seized these territories through terrorist means... The Zionist entity does not deserve the term "state" and it is the one that does not live peacefully with its Arab and Muslim neighbors."

Playing down the Ahmadinejad's remarks as being nothing new, most Iranian officials have complained that the hard-line president's comments had been exaggerated by the foreign media.

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and in charge of Iran's nuclear negotiations, said Ahmadinejad's speech had been subject to "abusive misinterpretation" by "certain Western media and certain countries".

He also told the student news agency ISNA that the scandal was merely "media manipulation" aimed at spreading suspicions that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons.

"The position of Iran on Palestine has not changed: it is the Palestinians who should defend their own rights and decide on their own fate," Larijani said, complaining, "Zionist and American officials have often called for a change in the Iranian regime, but never caused an impact like this."

"It is a psychological war orchestrated by the media who want to weaken Iran in international institutions." he further said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's reaction to the international outcry was one of steering clear of a call for the Jewish state to be erased from the map but stressing Iran's refusal to recognize Israel.

"In the eyes of the Islamic republic of Iran, the usurper 'Zionist' regime is not legitimate... because it does not respect U.N. Security Council resolutions,"he said, adding that Iran had from its early days after the 1979 Islamic revolution, contested the legitimacy of the apartheid regime in South Africa and Israel at the United Nations.

In its editorial on Saturday, the daily Iran News referred openly to the crisis as a pre-staged scenario aimed at providing "further ammunition for Europe and the U.S. on their aim of reporting Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council."

"Anyone familiar with the political system in post-revolutionary Iran knows that, during the past 27 years, statements such as the one made by Ahmadinejad are nothing new and are in line with the system's (regime's) strategic objective of expressing solidarity with the Palestinians," it said.

Calling the political storm that has been created over Ahmadinejad's remarks "hasty reactions by some pro-Israeli countries," the conservative English-language newspaper Tehran Times also focused on the issue on Monday in its editorial titled "A brouhaha over nothing": "... The occupation of Palestine, the use of force and violence in dealing with the Palestinians, and the moves to deprive the Palestinian nation of their inalienable rights are all rooted in the ideology of the Zionist leaders, which has become a serious threat to humanity.

"Therefore, when one talks about the annihilation of Israel, it does not mean the genocide of the Jewish people, but rather a non-violent confrontation with Zionist schools of thought, which are endangering the Middle East and the entire world."

But while most Muslim and Arab countries have remained silent on the remarks, a few have spoken out - including Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

"Palestinians recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist and I reject his comments," he was quoted by the BBC News website as saying.

"What we need to be talking about is adding the state of Palestine to the map and not wiping Israel from the map," he said.

Egypt, which has signed a peace treaty with Israel, also rejected the Iranian line.

"In principle, we are way beyond this type of political rhetoric that shows the weakness of the Iranian government," said an official at the Egyptian embassy in London.

Turkey's prime minister called on the Iranian president "to display political moderation."

Analysts see Ahmadinejad's comments as a major departure from the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, who had endeavored to bring Iran out of international isolation by toning down anti-Western rhetoric. They also say the incident has been hugely damaging Iran's standing internationally at a time when the country badly needs support to prevent its nuclear dossier being referred to the U.N. Security Council.

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Outside View: Ominously Misguided
New York (UPI) Oct 31, 2005
While the call this past week by Iran's President Ahmadinejad to "wipe Israel off the map," should not come as total surprise, it could suggest a dangerous shift in Iran's policy toward Israel.

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