Returning and Redemption
By James Blitz in London and Sharmila Devi in Jerusalem
Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, yesterday led a powerful condemnation by the European Union of the Iranian president’s call for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, warning that such remarks were “completely unacceptable”.
In a sign of their revulsion at remarks by Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, EU leaders signed a statement at their summit yesterday in Hampton Court, condemning the remarks as “manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community”.
Mr Blair, who holds the EU presidency, said Iran was making a “very big mistake” if it thought the world would ignore the comments because it was distracted by other events.
Stating that he was “revolted” by what Mr Ahmadi-Nejad had said at in Tehran on Wednesday, Mr Blair said- “I have never come across a situation of the president of a country saying they want to wipe out – not that they have got a problem with or an issue with, but want to wipe out – another country.
“This is unacceptable and their attitude towards Israel, their attitude towards terrorism, their attitude on the nuclear weapons issue isn’t acceptable.
“If they continue down this path then people are going to believe they are a real threat to our world security and stability.”
Britain yesterday underlined its displeasure at the comments by summoning the Iranian charge d’affaires in London to the Foreign Office. Downing Street officials believe the comment was a significant tactical blunder by the Iranian president, elected in June, because it provides a clear public definition of the risk Iran poses by developing nuclear weapons.
Ariel Sharon, Israeli prime minister, said Iran should be expelled from the United Nations, saying it was a danger not just to Israel and the Middle East but also to Europe. “A country that calls for the destruction of another people cannot be a member of the United Nations,” he said.
Mr Sharon said that Moscow had conveyed a protest to Tehran. He also noted that Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister who was in Israel yesterday, agreed that the remarks “put a new light on Iran’s attempts to arm itself with nuclear weapons”.
The UN also condemned the comments. Kofi Annan, secretary-general, had been scheduled to visit Iran during the next few weeks to discuss the nuclear issue that has dogged relations with Europe and the US.
His spokesman said yesterday Mr Annan now intended to place the Middle East peace process, and the right of all states to live free from threats or acts of force, at the top of his agenda.