Manouchehr Mottaki, the Foreign Minister, told reporters in Brussels on Monday: "Nobody can remove a country from the map. This is a misunderstanding in Europe of what our president mentioned."

Speaking in English, after addressing the European Parliament, Mottaki said that comments from Ahmadinejad made in October referred to the current Israeli regime which Tehran does not "recognise legally".

Ahmadinejad caused a storm of condemnation after Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted him as telling a conference: "Israel must be wiped off the map".

Mottaki's comments came as he sought to assure the EU that Tehran had no ambitions to make nuclear weapons, despite widespread mistrust in Europe and the US of the reasons behind Iran's nuclear programme.

No myth

Iran says it is for energy production only.

Mottaki also acknowledged the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany, despite Ahmadinejad saying in December that it was a myth.

"We believe that those people who make efforts to free their countries should not be regarded as terrorists"

Manouchehr Mottaki,
Iranian Foreign Minister

He told the parliament's foreign affairs committee, speaking through an interpreter: "Our friends in Europe stress that such a crime has taken place and they have stated certain figures that were actually suffered. We have no argument about that, but what we are saying here is to put right such a horrific event, why should the Muslims pay a price?"

The political leader of the resistance group Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections last month, was in Tehran on Monday for talks with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mottaki said it was natural such talks should take place, while making clear he rejected the West's labelling of Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction, as a terrorist group.

"We believe that those people who make efforts to free their countries should not be regarded as terrorists," he said.

He declined to speculate on how ties between a Hamas-led Palestinian government and Tehran would develop.