NEW YORK (AP) – Paying a visit to the home turf of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, potential rivals in the 2008 presidential race, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain told a Jewish audience that Israel and the world are threatened by a “possibly deranged and surely dangerous regime” in Iran.

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, McCain said in a speech prepared 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 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.

The former Vietnam prisoner of war, who tried and failed to gain the GOP presidential nomination in 1998, is considered the probable front-runner for his party’s nomination in two years. His stiffest challenge could come first from Giuliani in a Republican primary, while Clinton has unofficially made clear her interest in leading the Democratic ticket.

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 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.”

He said the U.N. Security Council must act immediately to impose multilateral political and economic sanctions on Iran while every other option, including military, is preserved.

“We have a long way to go diplomatically before we need to contemplate other measures, but it is a simple observation of reality that there is only one thing worse than a military solution, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran,” McCain said.

In Vienna, U.S. government officials said on Sunday that Washington, D.C., and its closest Western allies, Britain and France, may soon ask the U.N. Security Council to vote on sanctions against Iran, even though China and Russia might veto the measure or abstain.

McCain, who has urged President Bush to increase rather than reduce the size of American forces in Iraq, said that despite the “many serious mistakes we have made” and the ongoing violence there, the United States cannot simply “wash our hands of a messy situation.”

Because Iraqi security forces are not capable of operating on their own, he said, a “precipitous” pullout of U.S. forces would “risk all-out civil war and the emergence of a failed state in the heart of the Middle East.”

AP-ES-12-10-06 1714EST

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