Ahmadinejad says Israel will "disappear"

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s president said on Monday Israel would soon disappear off the map and that the “satanic power” of the United States faced destruction, in his latest verbal attack on the Islamic Republic’s arch-enemies.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a ceremony to mark the death anniversary of the Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at Khomeini's shrine in southern Tehran June 2, 2008. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was speaking at a gathering of foreign guests marking this week’s 19th anniversary of the death of Iran’s late revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the official IRNA news agency said.

“You should know that the criminal and terrorist Zionist regime which has 60 years of plundering, aggression and crimes in its file has reached the end of its work and will soon disappear off the geographical scene,” he said.

Turning to the United States, Ahmadinejad said the era of decline and destruction of its “satanic power” had begun.

Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West, is expected to travel to Rome on Tuesday to attend a U.N. summit on global food security. It will be his first visit to western Europe since he won the presidency in 2005.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino described Ahmadinejad’s comments as “that kind of rhetoric that just serves to further isolate the Iranian people”.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack condemned the Iranian president’s latest comments on Israel: “Again, more hateful vitriol coming from President Ahmadinejad.”

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The United States, which severed ties with Iran shortly after its 1979 Islamic revolution, is leading efforts to isolate Tehran over its disputed nuclear program, which the West suspects is a front for developing atomic bombs.

Washington says it wants a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear row but has not ruled out military action if that fails.

Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, says its nuclear program is only aimed at generating electricity and insists it will not bow to Western pressure.

Opposition to Israel is a fundamental principle in Shi’ite Muslim Iran, which backs Palestinian militants opposed to peace with the Jewish state.

A 2005 statement by Ahmadinejad saying that Israel should be “wiped off the map” outraged the international community.

The call was originally made by Khomeini and Ahmadinejad referred to this at another speech on Monday evening at the shrine near Tehran where the Islamic Republic’s founder is buried, saying “his ideal is about to be materialized today.”

He added: “The Zionist regime is in a total dead end and, God willing, this desire will soon be realized and the epitome of perversion will disappear off the face of the world.”

The crowd chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.”

In April, a senior Iranian army commander said Iran would respond to any military attack from Israel by “eliminating” it.

Some analysts have speculated that Israel might attack Iran to stop its nuclear work. Iran says it has developed ballistic missiles able to hit Israel and U.S. bases in the region. (Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari in Tehran and by Jeremy Pelofsky and Sue Pleming in Washington; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia