Jason Decrow  /  AP
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivers a keynote address after being conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Laws at Yeshiva University's Hanukkah Convocation on Sunday in New York.
updated 12/12/2006 6:21:54 AM ET 2006-12-12T11:21:54

Israel and the world are threatened by a "possibly deranged and surely dangerous regime" in Iran, White House hopeful Sen. John McCain told a Jewish audience.

The former Vietnam prisoner of war, who tried and failed to gain the Republican presidential nomination for the 2000 election, is considered the probable front-runner for the Republican party's nomination in two years.

As the world's "chief state sponsor of international terrorism," Iran defines itself by its hostility to the Jewish state and its chief ally, the United States, the Arizona Republican said in a speech for a Hanukkah dinner at Yeshiva University on Sunday.

He noted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a "myth," urged that Israel be "wiped off the map" and defied international demands and incentives to end what the United States and others have claimed is a drive to gain nuclear weapons capability.

"It is simply tragic that millennia of proud Persian history have culminated in a government that today cannot be counted among the world's most civilized nations," McCain said.

Ahmadinejad has denied that Iran seeks to build weapons, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and the country will not give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel. The United States and many European nations believe Iran's enrichment process is aimed at producing weapons.

McCain made his speech during a visit to the home turf of potential rivals in the 2008 presidential race, Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

McCain said Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons posed "an unacceptable risk" in that it would increase the threat of Iran-sponsored terrorist activities, render the nonproliferation treaty obsolete and cause non-nuclear nations such as Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to "reassess" their own nuclear potential.

Iran, McCain said, "must understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world."

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