Sharon calls on UN to expel 'dangerous' Iran

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Tony Blair, speaking at the end of an informal European Union summit, said the incident, which made him feel "revulsion", would only stiffen British resolve to ensure that Iran did not obtain a nuclear weapon.

After EU leaders united in condemning the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr Blair said he would be discussing possible action with Western allies in the coming days. It is thought he is seeking UN sanctions, but he did not specify what action was being contemplated, and did not specifically rule out the use of force.

"There has been a long time in which everyone has been saying to me, 'tell us you are not going to do anything about Iran'. If they carry on like this, the question people are going to be asking is, 'when are you going to do something?' Can you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that having a nuclear weapon?'' The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, who said the Iranian statement was "unacceptable", pointed out that the incident was likely to provide fresh impetus to a push by countries - including Britain and the United States - to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. The next opportunity to refer Iran to the council for failing to fully account for its nuclear programme will come at the next board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on 24 November.

Israel was so incensed by the remarks of the newly installed Iranian President, delivered during a speech to 4,000 radical Iranian students on Wednesday, that Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, and his deputy, Shimon Peres, demanded Iran's ejection from the UN.

However, Mr Peres recognised that such an outcome may be unlikely. Diplomats noted that even during the sanctions against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990, the country was not ejected from the world body.

Western diplomats put Mr Ahmadinejad's inflammatory statement down to inexperience. The Iranian leader was addressing a Tehran conference called "The World without Zionism" when his comments were reported by the official Iranian news agency. His remarks, in praise of Palestinian suicide bombers, caused an outcry as it was the first time in many years that an Iranian leader has openly called for the destruction of Israel, which is not officially recognised by Iran.

Reacting to chants from the students calling out "Death to America, death to Israel," the former member of the Revolutionary Guard gave his audience what they had come to hear. Saying he was voicing the opinion of Iran's late spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the President went on to say that "Israel must be wiped off the map".

The condemnations from around the world began almost instantly. The Foreign Office, which described Mr Ahmadinejad's remarks as "deeply disturbing and sickening", called in the Iranian chargé d'affaires yesterday for an explanation.

The US and Israel said the incident only heightened concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions, amid concerns in the West that the Iranians may be attempting to build a nuclear bomb.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Sylvan Shalom, warned after talks in Paris that: "Such a country that has nuclear weapons is a danger, not only to Israel and the Middle East, but also to Europe."

Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, has warned in the past that it may take military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. However of late, both the US and Israel have stressed that a diplomatic solution is preferred.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has said that it was "inconceivable" that military action would be taken against Iran.