Blair considers UN sanctions as he speaks of 'revulsion' at Iranian President's speech

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The Prime Minister spoke of his personal anger and 'revulsion' at the remarks which threaten to plunge relations between Iran and the West into a fresh and dangerous crisis. 'I have never come across a situation of a president of a country saying they want to wipe out another country,' he said.

Speaking at the end of an informal European Union summit, Mr Blair said the incident 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 is being contemplated, and he 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 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," noted 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 24th 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 Israeli prime minister, and his deputy, Shimon Peres, demanded Iran's ejection from the UN.

However Mr Peres recognised that such an outcome would be unlikely.

Diplomats noted that even during the dark days of sanctions against Iraq, which invaded Kuwait in 1990, the country was not ejected from the world body.

But some Western diplomats put Mr Ahmadinejad's inflammatory statement down to inexperience. The Iranian leader was addressing a Tehran conference on Wednesday called the "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 fanatical Revolutionary Guards gave his audience what they had come to hear. Saying that he was voicing the opinion of Iran's late spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the new 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 that 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, 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.

Mr Blair said he believed there were people in the Iranian leadership who thought the West was sufficiently distracted with Iraq and terrorism elsewhere that it could not afford to focus on the threat from Iran. "They will be making a very big mistake if they do that," said Mr Blair.