ahmadinejad 298 AP.
(photo credit: AP)
Pro-democracy reformers denounced Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday for calling for Israel's annihilation, saying it harmed the country's international standing.
Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that Israel is a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map," prompting international condemnation and an Israeli demand Iran be expelled from the UN.
On Sunday, Ahmadinejad said his comments represented Iran's long-standing policy toward the Jewish state enunciated by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic News Agency said.
"These words are the same ones that the late imam [Khomeini] said," Ahmadinejad said, explaining that he only added one sentence about "the powers of arrogance," seen as a reference to the US. Iran does not recognize the existence of Israel and Khomeini had repeatedly called for its destruction.
But former president Muhammad Khatami criticized Ahmadinejad, saying "those words have created hundreds of political and economic problems for us in the world," IRNA said.
It was the first time in a quarter century that there was a clear-cut rift over a major policy position drawn up by Khomeini.
"Ahmadinejad's remarks harmed Iran. It was irresponsible and illogical," said Rajabali Mazrouei, a prominent reformer and former deputy. "We can't be more extremist than Palestinians themselves."
Morad Veisi, a leading political analyst, said it was the first time that an Iranian head of state was openly calling for the destruction of Israel. "Khomeini was a spiritual leader, not head of government. Ahmadinejad apparently is not even familiar with the world of politics," he said.
Extremists, however, were motivated by Ahmadinejad's remarks. About 300 men and women turned up Sunday at the offices of the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement to volunteer for suicide bomb attacks against Israel.
A spokesman for the group said it had signed up more than 45,000 volunteers to undergo training for suicide attacks since it began recruiting in June 2004.
"More than 1,000 of them have already been trained. Many of them don't need training since they are already members of the elite Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary Basij forces," Muhammad Ali Samadi said.
Several senior officials, including presidential adviser Mojtaba Rahmandoust and Parliament Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, were at the gathering.
"The Iranian nation wants this regime removed from the world map," Rahmandoust told the gathering held at a building owned by the semiofficial Martyr Foundation.