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Iran president ''Zionist regime'' a threat

Written by: Staff

TEHRAN, April 14 (Reuters) - Iran's president said today that the existence of the ''Zionist regime'', Iran's term for Israel, was a threat to the Islamic world, days after declaring Iran had become a nuclear power by enriching uranium.

But the tone of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech to a conference on the Palestinian issue was slightly more moderate than fiery rhetoric last year, when Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted him as telling a conference: ''Israel must be wiped off the map.'' ''The existence of the Zionist regime is tantamount to an imposition of an unending and unrestrained threat so that none of the nations and Islamic countries of the region and beyond can feel secure from its threat,'' Ahmadinejad said on Friday.

He said it was up to all ''genuine Palestinians'' - whether, Muslim, Christian or Jew residing in Palestine or the diaspora -- to hold a referendum and decide on a political system.

In February, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Ahmadinejad's comments last year had been misunderstood and that he had been speaking about the Israeli ''regime'' not the country.

Mottaki had said a country could not be removed from the map.

Ahmadinejad's remarks last year echoed statements by the late founder of the Islamic state, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and drew widespread international condemnation.

Ahmadinejad, a religiously conservative former member of the hardline Revolutionary Guards, came to power last year. He has toughened government policies, including on nuclear issues.

On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had enriched uranium to a level used in power stations and wanted to pursue industrial-scale production. He said the achievement meant the world should now consider Iran a nuclear power.

The West believes the move is part of Iranian efforts to develop nuclear bombs, a charge Iran denies.

In Israel, officials were not immediately available to comment on his latest remarks but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert previously said Ahmadinejad was an ''anti-Semite'' whose country's nuclear programme must be stopped at all costs.

''PALESTINIAN HOLOCAUST'' Ahmadinejad has repeatedly questioned the veracity of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany. In December he described it as a myth.

today, he said: ''Are the consequences of the establishment of this (Israeli) regime less than the Holocaust which you (the West) are claiming? If there are doubts regarding the Holocaust, there is really no doubt regarding the Palestinian disaster and holocaust.'' ''Palestine should be returned to the Palestinian nation and the united Palestinian government, elected by all Palestinians, should rule the country,'' he said.

''In other words, the only rational way, which is compatible with the generally recognised international norms, is holding a referendum (to decide on a political system and elect leaders) for all genuine Palestinians,'' he said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate authority in Iran, also addressed the conference which was attended by delegates and members of parliament from around the world, many of them from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Khamenei's speech focused on an account of Israel's creation but he also said: ''Palestine should be returned to its nation (of people) and a government elected by all Palestinians should rule this country.'' REUTERS CH VC2245

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