Germany reacted to Iran's suggestion of relocating the "tumor" of Israel to Europe by rebuking the Iranian ambassador in Berlin; other nations decried the comments.
Iran's ultraconservative leader seems to seek controversy
The remarks by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were greeted with outrage from Germany, Austria, Israel and the US, at the forefront of an international campaign to prevent the Islamic regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad, who in October said arch-enemy Israel must be "wiped off the map", said that if Germany and Austria believed Jews were massacred during World War II, a state of Israel should be established on their soil.
"You believe the Jews were oppressed, why should the Palestinian Muslims have to pay the price?" he asked in an interview with Iranian state television's Arabic-language satellite channel, Al-Alam.
Ahmadinejad spoke in October at a 'World without Zionism' conference.
"You oppressed them, so give a part of Europe to the Zionist regime so they can establish any government they want. We would support it," he said, according to a transcript of his original Farsi-language comments given to the AFP news service.
"So, Germany and Austria, come and give one, two or any number of your provinces to the Zionist regime so they can create a country there... and the problem will be solved at its root," he said. "Why do they insist on imposing themselves on other powers and creating a tumor so there is always tension and conflict?"
In response, the Central Council of Jews in Germany called for Germany to break of diplomatic relations with Iran. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the remarks as "fully unacceptable." A foreign ministry spokesman said they plan to call in the Iranian ambassador for a formal rebuke.
"There must be steps taken to make it clear to Iran's leadership that the comments are in breach of international law," Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany told the Netzeitung on Friday.
Spiegel said he welcomed Merkel's condemnation of the comments, but added, "indignation alone isn't enough."
For its part, Israel called the Iranian president "very dangerous."
"This was not a misstatement or a passing remark," Israeli
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio. "It is a systematic way of thinking which is intended to bring about the annihilation of the state of Israel."
And Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: "I hope that these outrageous remarks will be a wake-up call to people who have any illusions about the nature of the regime in Iran."
Iran's Isfahan nuclear facility.
Israel's views were echoed by the United States, its closest ally.
"It just further underscores our concerns about the regime in Iran. And its all the more reason why its so important that the regime not have the ability to develop nuclear weapons," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Europeans express outrage
Merkel was far from the only European leader to pounce on the Iranian leader. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, speaking after a meeting with US President George W. Bush, called the remarks "an outrageous gaffe, which I want to repudiate in the sharpest manner."
Steinmeier: Comments 'don't make diplomacy easier.'
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU's nuclear diplomacy is "not made easier" by Ahmadinejad's statements. And Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also condemned the remarks.
Annan expresses 'shock'
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was "shocked to see the remarks" according to a UN statement. Only last month, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution which "rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or in part."
Annan and the UN passed a resolution rejecting Holocaust denial
Ahmadinejad, a straight-talking former commando who swept to the presidency after a shock election win in June, is no stranger to controversy.
In October, Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." As a result, Annan cancelled a scheduled visit to Iran, and the country was chastized by the UN Security Council and drew fierce condemnation from the West -- already alarmed over its nuclear ambitions and ballistic missile program.
Denying the Holocaust
In Ahmadinejad's interview Thursday, he referred to the Holocaust as a matter of belief, and raised the issue of revisionist historians -- who attempt to establish that figures on the number of Jews killed by the Nazis are wildly exaggerated -- being prosecuted in Europe.
"Is it not true that European countries insist that they committed a Jewish genocide? They say that Hitler burned millions of Jews in furnaces... and exiled them," he said. "Then because the Jews have been oppressed during the Second World War, therefore they (the Europeans) have to support the occupying regime of Qods (Jerusalem). We do not accept this."
A Holocaust memorial was recently established in Berlin
The Holocaust was Nazi Germany's systematic slaughter of an estimated six million Jews between 1933 and 1945.
Official Iranian media frequently carry sympathetic interviews with Holocaust revisionists, and the regime itself also refuses to recognise Israel.
Ahmadinejad also proposed "a referendum in Palestine for all the original Palestinians" to decide on the future of what is now Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Call for resistance
But he said "the best solution is resistance so that the enemies of the Palestinians accept the reality and the right of the Palestinian people to have land."
Ahmadinejad's tone has also been a major departure from his pro-reform predecessor Mohammad Khatami, who had eased anti-Western rhetoric and sought to bring Iran out of international isolation by calling for a "dialogue among civilisations."