'I don't understand - people will see us as irrational'

Mehran, a 30-year old civil engineer, said: "This is not anything new. Ayatollah Khomeini said this before but I think it is irrational to say a whole country should be wiped off the face of the earth. When the heads of a state say such irrational things it's natural that public opinion in the international community will turn against Iran."

On the street, there is a sense of weariness that Iran's international image has again been criticised abroad. "I don't understand how he can say stuff like that - people abroad will see us as irrational," said Nader, 21, a factory worker. "Ahmadinejad says things to appeal to his core supporters. He hasn't done anything for our foreign policy yet."

Ahmad Mirani, 55, who works in a estate agency, said: "He meant to say something to please those who voted for him. It is not meant to have any practical results but it will help isolate us in the international community."

Analysts say there is also concern within the regime about the new president's understanding of political and diplomatic realities. They say he does not understand the weight his words carry in the international arena.

"Others could have made such accusations with no serious implications but when a president does that, its bound to have significant negative implications. Talking like that about Israel is like a card a player keeps up his sleeve to slam on the table whenever need be," said a publisher, A Taherian.

"I really don't think Iran will do anything more hostile against Israel," said one Tehran-based analyst who declined to be named. "Ahmadinejad is populist and speaks from the heart. I'm sure he does want to see a world without Israel or America but he won't actually do anything about them."

The president's comments further show up the new administration's foreign policy weakness. Diplomats in Tehran talk scathingly about their new opposite numbers at the foreign ministry, who they say are often unaware of basic diplomatic protocol.

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