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The United States and the European Union should impose a range of sanctions against Iran for continuing to press ahead with its nuclear program if the UN security council does not do so, US Congressman Tom Lantos said Tuesday.
"Iran poses a very serious threat to the entire world community and collective action is called for," Lantos said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Lantos was in Israel this week to take part in the 'International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians,' a three-day gathering of Jewish lawmakers from around the world.
The California congressman, who serves as the senior Democrat on the House's International Relations Committee, said that if the UN security council failed to impose "long-overdue" sanctions against Iran due to opposition by countries such as Russia or China, then the United States and the European Union should do so on their own.
He said that, while such sanctions would not be as comprehensive as ones initiated by the UN, they would nevertheless force Iran to change course on its nuclear program.
His comments came as Iran publicly removed seals at its nuclear facilities, heightening ever-growing concerns that Teheran was fast moving toward building atomic weapons.
The 77-year-old Hungarian-born congressman, who is the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the US Congress, said in the interview that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust was "beyond irrational or lunatic."
"These observations are the manifestations of either total ignorance or a demented mind," he said.
He added that the Iranian president's recent call to "wipe Israel off the map" should give the civilized world "a very serious warning" that a country with huge petroleum earnings and a resolute determination to develop nuclear weapons and long range missiles must be taken very seriously. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly insisted that Iran would continue to conduct nuclear research, despite repeated warnings from the international community about punitive measures if it did so.
"We cannot remain silent and neutral when the president of a country in a volatile region is advocating the destruction of another country in the region," he said.
In addition, however, Lantos reiterated that Iran represented a threat to the international community at large and was not simply an American or Israeli problem.
He declined to comment on Israeli intelligence estimates, repeated on Monday by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, that Iran was as little as six months away from acquiring the know-how to make a nuclear bomb.
Lantos said that three years of on-again, off-again European negotiations were clearly used by Iran to gain time and press ahead with its nuclear research. "We fully expected this, but now the cards are on the table," he said.
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, put off referring Iran to the UN Security Council two months ago, in part out of an effort to secure Russian and Chinese support on the Iranian matter.