Israel has, for years, cautioned against Iran's intentions and the dangers of its nuclear ambitions, but on Wednesday former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar gave the world yet another reason to heed those warnings. Aznar, speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem, recalled a meeting with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which he expressed his intention to destroy Israel.
"In a private discussion we held in Tehran in October of 2000, Ali Khamenei told me that Israel must be burned to the ground and made to disappear from the face of the Earth," Aznar told the audience. The former Spanish prime minister went on to say that Iran's spiritual leader also said that "Iran's war against the United States and Israel is inevitable."
Aznar was in Israel as a guest of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, currently headed by former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Dore Gold.
Gold asked him, "When Khamenei was talking about wiping Israel off the map, was he referring to a gradual historical process involving the collapse of the Zionist state, or rather its physical-military termination?"
Aznar answered, "He meant physical termination through military force." The former Spanish leader also told the crowd that Khamenei described Israel as "an historical cancer, an anomaly," and said that he was "working toward Iran defeating the United States and Israel in an inevitable war against them."
Aznar also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and discussed the matter with him.
Meanwhile, a classified report submitted by a panel of experts in the U.N. and leaked to Reuters concludes that sanctions against Iran are working, but that the Islamic Republic has been simultaneously continuing its nuclear enrichment efforts.
Western diplomats say Iran is installing more centrifuges in an underground plant but does not yet appear to be using them to expand higher-grade uranium enrichment that could take it closer to producing atom bomb material.
They say Iran's production of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which it started two years ago, seems to have remained steady in recent months after a major escalation of the work in late 2011 and early this year.
Progress in Iran's controversial nuclear program is closely watched by the West and Israel as it could determine the time the Islamic Republic would need to build nuclear bombs, should it decide to do so.
Getting Iran to stop the higher-level enrichment is expected to be a priority for world powers when they meet with Iran in Baghdad next week in an attempt to start resolving the decade-old dispute over Tehran's atomic ambitions.
"It is still going strong. I hear it is unchanged," one diplomat accredited to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, which regularly inspects Iran's declared atomic sites, said about the country's most sensitive nuclear activity. "But with installation work going on, at some point there will be an increase," the official said.
Tehran took a big step toward the capability of making nuclear weapons material after a previous attempt at diplomacy failed when, spurning U.N. demands to halt all enrichment, it instead ramped up uranium processing to 20 percent purity.
That provoked the West to impose crushing sanctions on its banks and oil exports.
A U.N. nuclear report published in February showed Iran trebling output of 20 percent uranium since late 2011 after starting up production at the Fordo underground plant near the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom and later increasing it.
Another envoy said he did not expect to see a "significant expansion" of this work in the next quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran's nuclear program due later this month.