The United States says the latest comments on Israel by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are reprehensible and only add to international concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions. The Iranian leader Friday said Israel is heading toward annihilation, while also again questioning whether the World War II Nazi extermination campaign against Jews actually occurred.
The State Department says the Iranian president's repeated statements about the desirability of Israel's destruction have to be seen as reflecting Iran's actual intentions, and thus they only add to international fears and concern about what U.S. officials say is Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The comments here follow a speech by President Ahmadinejad Friday in which he depicted Israel as a permanent threat to the Middle East that will soon be eliminated, while also again calling into question the truth of the Nazi Holocaust.
The Iranian leader also brushed aside as unimportant a warning by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Tehran could face strong action for defying a U.N. Security Council call for Iran to end uranium enrichment and return to negotiations over its nuclear program.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said that for the elected leader of one country to call for the elimination of another sovereign state is a source of grave concern. He also said it is a troubling element for diplomats from the permanent Security Council member countries as they prepare for talks on what to do next on the nuclear issue.
"I think that when they do bring up this topic, of how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program, that this kind of rhetoric - which we can only assume represents the true policy intentions of the Iranian regime - will provide impetus for the international community to act in a strong, diplomatic manner with respect to Iran, to force them through diplomatic leverage, to change their behavior," he said.
Senior diplomats of the G-8 leading industrial powers and the permanent Security Council member countries convene early next week in Moscow for an unusual round of nuclear security talks. The meeting was originally intended to lay groundwork for the G-8 summit in Moscow in July.
But U.S. officials say the diplomats, including U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, will also discuss possible next steps on the Iranian nuclear issue now that Tehran has apparently spurned the Security Council statement late last month calling on it to halt uranium enrichment.
Iran, which says it is enriching uranium only for domestic power production, announced a technical breakthrough in enrichment this week and said it will not give up what it says is its right to a full nuclear fuel cycle.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei visited Tehran this week to gauge Iran's willingness to abide by the Security Council president's statement but was apparently rebuffed.
ElBaradei telephoned Secretary Rice Friday to brief her on results of the mission. While spokesman McCormack provided no details, he said Secretary Rice did not get the impression that the IAEA chief heard anything new.
ElBaradei delivers a formal report to the Security Council April 28 after which the council will consider follow-on action to the president's statement.
Officials here say the United States favors a binding resolution under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter and possible sanctions against Iran, either in an initial Chapter Seven resolution or a successor measure.
They say the United States is not looking at sanctions against Iran's mainstay oil and gas industry, which they say would cause hardship for the Iranian people, but rather travel and other sanctions targeted at leaders of the Tehran government.
Though Chapter Seven sanctions could include military action, they say the U.S. focus is on diplomacy.
U.S. diplomats have said privately that Iranian President Ahmadinejad's defiant stand on the nuclear issue may be partly a function of domestic politics in Tehran.
Spokesman McCormack said Friday his harsh rhetoric about Israel may be an effort to turn the attention of Iranians away from the regime's terrible record on human rights, backsliding on democracy, and a stagnant economy.