Iran warns of ‘iron fist’ response to any strike over nuclear goals

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THE Supreme Leader of Iran has warned the United States and Israel they will face “a strong slap and an iron fist” if they strike first in the row over its nuclear programme.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in criticising an unequivocal report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which suggested Iran was using the cover of a peaceful nuclear programme to produce atomic weapons.

Mr Khamenei said Iran was generating nuclear energy for peaceful means and did not intend to invade any country. He warned that any nation that launched a strike would face a tough response.

Addressing officers at a military academy in Tehran, Mr Khamenei said: “The enemies, particularly the United States and its pawns and the Zionist regime, should know that the Iranian nation does not seek to invade any country or nation.

“But Iran will strongly respond to any invasion or attack with such power and in a way that the aggressors and invaders will be smashed from the inside.

“The Iranian nation is not a nation that only sits and watches threats coming from straw powers, which are internally eaten by worms.”

Mr Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that Tehran would not retreat “an iota” from their nuclear programme, which includes enriching uranium – a step towards making a nuclear bomb.

Four rounds of United Nations sanctions have so far failed in halting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The US is concerned that Iran gaining nuclear capability could spark an arms race with rival states, including Saudi Arabia, and directly threaten Israel, which has been the subject of threats from Iran’s leaders.

Ahead of the IAEA report’s release, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak said that without effective sanctions, his country would take no option “off the table”, including military action.

Meanwhile, Russia’s nuclear chief has said Iran would like more Russian-built nuclear reactors, two months after the first started producing electricity in the southern port of Bushehr.

Rosatom’s Sergei Kiriyenko told a cabinet meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin that the agency was working out an agreement for a second order of reactors. Russia has firmly resisted proposed new sanctions against Iran.

A Russian scientist accused of helping Iran develop its nuclear capability has denied assisting the state’s nuclear programme.

The IAEA report said a “foreign expert” had helped Iran develop an advanced detonator essential for triggering a nuclear chain reaction. The expert was later identified as 76-year-old Vyacheslav Danilenko, a scientist who had worked on the Soviet nuclear programme.

He was quoted by newspaper Kommersant as saying: “I am not a nuclear scientist and I am not the founder of the Iranian nuclear programme” despite working in the country during the 1990s.

Mr Danilenko told investigators from the IAEA that he thought his work was limited to assisting civilian engineering projects.

The IAEA report was its bluntest warning yet, claiming to have pulled together “credible” evidence that Iran had “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device”.

It said that Iran had stockpiled equipment and nuclear material over many years and sought to develop “pathways” to enrich uranium without declaring it.

It also gained information on nuclear enrichment from a clandestine supply network, believed to be headed by renegade Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

The IAEA’s 35-nation board will meet next Thursday or Friday to consider a course of action.