Italy said Sunday that Iran was isolating itself with its call for the destruction of Israel _ the latest retort reflecting increasing diplomatic tensions between Rome and Tehran.
The Italian Foreign Ministry issued a blistering statement after Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi spoke scathingly about Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini.
In an interview in Corriere della Sera daily on Saturday, Fini called on the international community to help guarantee Israel's security, and condemned Iran's president for saying the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map."
Fini skipped a pro-Israel rally Thursday outside Iran's embassy in Rome, saying he feared Tehran might retaliate against Italian interests, although he encouraged others to join the protest.
During his weekly news conference, the Iranian spokesman said Fini's comments were "not compatible with the role of foreign minister and with the glory and honor of the Italian nation."
The Italian Foreign Ministry statement retorted: "Minister Fini certainly cannot accept lessons on conduct coming from a foreign (ministry) spokesman,"
"No one wants to isolate Iran," the Italian statement said. "On the contrary we all hope that Tehran, adopting responsible conduct, wants to play a role of stabilization in its region, but it is Iran which inevitably isolates itself in the moment it denies the right to exist to another state and other people."
In the interview, Fini said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his anti-Israeli call, merely said what many others think "but have not always dared speak with such brutality."
Fini, who is also deputy premier, engineered the transformation of his right-wing party, with decades-old roots in fascism, into a mainstream conservative party that is Premier Silvio Berlusconi's major coalition partner.
"Not recognizing Israel's right to exist is an incentive for terrorism because the moment you don't recognize a state's right to exist, you don't recognize a people's right to exist," Fini was quoted as saying. "Ahmadinejad's words help those who are working to make sure the Middle East never stabilizes, and fuels ... the fire that fuels terrorism."
Fini pointed to Hamas as an example of an organization that includes in its statute the objective of wiping out Israel.
Fini's words were welcome evidence of a gradual warming in Europe toward Israel, said Riccardo Pacifici, the spokesman for Rome's Jewish community.
Fini also urged Iran to be transparent about its nuclear aspirations, saying it was not in the interest of the international community to isolate Iran. "No one is thinking about an armed conflict with Iran," he said, according to Corriere della Sera.
During a visit to Israel earlier in the week, Fini said Italy wants Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions on the issue of nuclear weapons. Until then, Fini had rarely spoken in public about Italy's position on the Iranian nuclear issue.
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is scheduled to meet later this month to decide whether to refer Iran to the Security Council.
Iran says its nuclear program is exclusively for generating electricity.