Iran summons envoy ahead of rally

Pro-Israel rally in Rome to protest Iranian leader's recent radical remarks.

Iran summoned Italy's ambassador to Teheran to protest a planned pro-Israeli rally on Thursday that was organized to denounce recent anti-Israel comments by the Iranian president, according to news reports. Italy's foreign ministry confirmed Wednesday that Ambassador Roberto Toscano had been summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry a day earlier, but did not say why. The ANSA news agency reported he had been handed a note of protest because of the rally, planned to be held outside the Iranian Embassy in Rome. Italian politicians from the left and right have said they will attend the rally, called to protest remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in which he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Il Foglio, a small conservative newspaper close to Premier Silvio Berlusconi, called for the protest, saying Italians should demonstrate "to defend the right of Israel to exist." Earlier, diplomats said Iran granted UN nuclear inspectors new access to a high-security military site as part of efforts to avoid referral to the Security Council. At the same time, one of the diplomats said Teheran has told the IAEA that it will soon resume uranium conversion - the step before uranium enrichment, which can produce either nuclear energy or the fissile core of weapons. The two developments sent conflicting signals to an international community concerned about Iran's nuclear agenda. They showed Iran was unwilling to meet international calls to give up enrichment and all linked activities even while casting the country as conciliatory and ready to cooperate with IAEA inspectors probing its past nuclear activities. The last meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board told Iran in September to suspend all uranium enrichment related activities including conversion and to give agency experts access to research, experts, locations and documents or face Security Council referral. Iran has stopped at conversion but insists it has the right to the next stage - enrichment. The diplomats said experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency were allowed to revisit Parchin as they try to establish whether Tehran has a secret nuclear weapons program. The IAEA had for months been trying to follow up on a visit in January for further checks of buildings and areas within the sprawling military complex as it looks for traces of radioactivity. Meanwhile, Iran's hard-line government said Wednesday that it was removing 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats, including supporters of warmer ties with the West, in a shakeup that comes as Iran is taking a more confrontational international stance. The move gives the new government of ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the chance to purge pro-reform figures brought in by his predecessor, moderate Mohammad Khatami, and install its own supporters. IRNA said they include Iran's ambassador to London, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, one of Iran's top diplomats, considered a leading member of the pragmatic foreign policy wing that supports contacts with Europe and other countries. On Wednesday, more than 10,000 demonstrators shouted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" in front of the former US Embassy in Tehran in the largest such demonstration in years. Hard-liners organize protests at the site annually to mark the anniversary of the Nov. 4, 1979 seizure of the embassy by student militants, but in past years it has drawn only several thousand people. Demonstrators carried a large picture of Ahmadinejad emblazoned with his quote, "Israel must be wiped off the map." They burned US and Israeli flags and effigies of US President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon. Some wore a traditional Palestinian kaffiyah headdress, symbolizing their readiness to fight Israel. "We have to continue our confrontation with the United States and Israel. This could help the world get rid of the arrogant powers," the hard-line Jomhuri Eslami daily said in an editorial.