Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be wiped off the map has triggered widespread outrage and prompted Israel to describe the government in Tehran as a clear and present danger.
"We believe that Iran is trying to buy time ... so it can develop a nuclear bomb," said Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
"Iran is a clear and present danger," he said at a joint press conference in Jerusalem with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres saidL "This call contravenes the United Nations charter and is tantamount to a crime against humanity.
"We must submit a clear-cut request to the UN secretary-general (Kofi Annan) and the Security Council to obtain Iran's expulsion from the United Nations," he wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"It is inconceivable for a man calling for genocide to be at the head of a member country of the United Nations," said Peres.
In Washington, the White House said the words of the hardline Iranian president also underlined US concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
"It just reconfirms what we have been saying about the regime in Iran. It underscores the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear operations," spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos on Wednesday summoned Iran's ambassador to protest comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who described Israel as a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map".
France's Douste-Blazy deplored
the remarks of Ahmadinejad
In a statement, Moratinos said he rejected the remarks in the strongest possible terms and had called for an urgent meeting with Iran's ambassador in Madrid.
For its part, France will summon Iran's ambassador to Paris to question him over Ahmadinejad's call," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said.
"I learned of the comments ... according to which the president of Iran says he wants Israel to disappear and said the conflict in the Middle East would perpetuate an age-old fight between Jews and Muslims," Douste-Blazy said in a statement.
Ahmadinejad made the comments at a conference in Tehran entitled The World without Zionism.
"As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map," he said in a reference to Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
In Berlin, the German government said the comments were "completely unacceptable".
"If these comments were in fact made, they are completely unacceptable and should be condemned in the strongest terms," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Walter Lindner.
"This kind of regime is very, very extreme and it would be a nightmare for all the international community if they had a nuclear bomb"
Israeli Foreign Minister
Together with Britain and France, Germany is a member of the so-called EU3 group that is negotiating with Tehran over its controversial nuclear programme.
In his speech Ahmadinejad said Israel's establishment was "a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world".
In Jerusalem, Shalom said Tehran had consistently shown its desire to wipe out Israel.
"This is not the first time that this regime has wished for the destruction of the state of Israel," he said in remarks after the press conference.
Shalom added: "This kind of regime is very, very extreme and it would be a nightmare for all the international community if they had a nuclear bomb.
"We believe that the time has come to move the Iranian file to the (UN) Security Council and the sooner the better."
But the Russian foreign minister differed, saying Moscow had no substantial evidence that "we have a clear and present danger" from Iran's nuclear programme.
Russia and Israel differ on the
issue of Iran's N-programme
"We rely on the professional advice of the agency (International Atomic Energy Agency). It is too serious (an issue) to be guided by politics," Lavrov said.
The IAEA board of governors passed a resolution in September finding Iran to be in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
That paved the way for the matter to be referred to the UN Security Council if Iran fails to suspend all nuclear fuel work or to cooperate fully with the IAEA investigation.
Russia, which has a lucrative contract to build Iran's first nuclear power reactor, has a veto on the Security Council.
Iran says that its nuclear programme is a peaceful effort to generate electricity. Washington and Israel claim the programme is weapons-related.