TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (search) declared Wednesday that Israel (search) is a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map" — fiery words that Washington said underscores its concern over Iran's nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad's speech to thousands of students at a "World without Zionism" conference set a hard-line foreign policy course sharply at odds with that of his moderate predecessor, echoing the sentiments of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution.
The United States said Ahmadinejad's remarks show that Washington's fears about Iran's nuclear program are accurate.
"I think it reconfirms what we have been saying about the regime in Iran," White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) told reporters in Washington. "It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear intentions."
Ahmadinejad also condemned Iran's neighbors which seek to break new ground in their relations with Israel. "Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury," state-run television quoted him as saying.
Relations between Israel and several Persian Gulf states have been thawing amid Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (search) in September. Bahrain announced in September it was ending a decades-old law banning trade ties with Israel. In October, Qatar said it was donating $6 million to help build a soccer stadium for a mixed Arab-Jewish team, the first such financial assistance by an Arab state for any town inside Israel.
Israel has been at the forefront of nations calling for an end to Iran's nuclear program, which the United States and many others in the West say is aimed at acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Iran insists the program is for generating electricity.
Referring to Palestinian suicide bomb attacks in Israel, Ahmadinejad said: "there is no doubt that the new wave in Palestine will soon wipe off this disgraceful blot from the face of the Islamic world."
Ahmadinejad's speech came hours before a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in the Israeli town of Hadera (search), killing five people. Iran aids several militant Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with support and training through proxies among Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
"Ahmadinejad has clearly declared the doctrine of his government," said Mohammad Sadeq Hosseini, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs. "He is returning Iran to the revolutionary goals it was pursuing in the 1980s."
Reacting to the Iranian president's speech, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Ahmadinejad and Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar "speak openly about destroying the Jewish state ... and it appears the problem with these extremists is that they followed through on their violent declarations with violent actions."
Ebrahim Yazdi, a former Iranian foreign minister, said Ahmadinejad's remarks harmed Iran.
"Such comments provoke the international community against us. It's not to Iran's interests at all. It's harmful to Iran to make such a statement," he said.
In Madrid, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos (search) summoned Iran's ambassador to protest Ahmadinejad's comments. Moratinos said he rejected the remarks in the strongest possible terms.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Baptiste Mattei (search) also condemned the remarks "with the utmost firmness."
Ahmadinejad became president in August after winning elections two months earlier. He replaced Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who advocated international dialogue and tried to improve relations with the West.
Iran announced earlier this year that it had fully developed solid fuel technology for missiles, a major breakthrough that increases their accuracy. The Shahab-3, with a range of 810 miles to more than 1,200 miles, is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East.