Monday, August 21, 2006

Khamenei: No Letup on Iran Nuclear Program

CNN News:
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's highest authority, said on Monday the Islamic Republic had decided to press ahead with its pursuit of nuclear energy, suggesting Iran will not heed a U.N. demand to stop enriching uranium.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has made its decision and, in the issue of nuclear energy, will continue its path powerfully ... and it will receive the sweet fruits of its efforts," Khamenei said on state television, Reuters reported.

His remarks came the day after Iran's armed forces tested surface-to-surface missiles Sunday in the second stage of war games near its border with Iraq, just days before a U.N. deadline to accept limits on its nuclear program or face possible sanctions. READ MORE

The war games occurred as Iran again rejected any preconditions for further talks on giving up its uranium-enrichment program, which it says is meant for peaceful purposes.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran believes setting preconditions for negotiations will tighten the atmosphere for the two sides to reach a solution," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

"Why do they believe that the two parties should not negotiate in an open atmosphere?"

The U.N. Security Council has given Iran until the end of August to freeze its enrichment program or possibly face economic sanctions. Iran has said its response to incentives intended to persuade its leaders to accept strictures on its nuclear program would be ready by Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Iran's military launched the first stage of a planned series of war games on Saturday. The exercises will be conducted in 16 provinces in southern, southwestern and western parts of the country during the coming days, IRNA reported.

Brig. Gen. Kiumars Heidari, a military spokesman, told the IRNA that Iranian forces test-fired Iranian-made Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) missiles and surface-to-water missiles in southwestern Khuzestan Province, which adjoins Iraq.

Iran has routinely held war games over the past two decades to improve its combat readiness and to test equipment such as missiles, tanks and armored personnel carriers.

The new tests, in the wake of the Lebanon-Hezbollah fighting, seemed certain to create new tensions with the West.

Iran's state-run television said the missile was built based on domestic know-how, although outside experts say much of the country's missile technology originated from other countries.

State-run TV showed video of 10 missiles being launched from mobile launching pads, The Associated Press reported.

Iran has said it is developing its nuclear technology for a civilian power program. But the United States and some European countries have accused Iranian leaders of working towards joining the exclusive club of countries that have nuclear weapons.

"If the Europeans' attitude is rational, the package of incentives can settle problems," Asefi said. "The package has still ambiguities and questions which should be answered."

He said Iran would cooperate with the nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and he predicted that the Europeans would not allow sanctions to be imposed on the oil-exporting nation. Such a move would result in EU countries "burning their bridges," he said.

"If other countries refrain from cooperating with Iran, they will sustain more damage," he said.

But Emily Lawrimore, a spokeswoman for the same White House that once branded Iran -- along with Iraq and North Korea -- members of the "axis of evil," said Sunday that the show of military force "serves to remind us of the dangers of its [Iran's] nuclear ambitions.

"Iran sits at the nexus of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism; we know that Iran is producing and developing delivery systems that could threaten our friends and allies in the Middle East and Europe and eventually the United States itself," she said. "As the president has noted, Iran faces a clear choice."

The statement carried echoes of pronouncements from Washington in the months leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where about 130,000 U.S. troops are still battling a persistent insurgency and trying to quell a wave of sectarian violence.

In this case, however, Lawrimore said that if Iran failed to comply with the Security Council's mandate, "We will move quickly at the United Nations to impose sanctions," she said.

But Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, speaker of Iran's Parliament, accused the United States of interfering in the affairs of other countries.

"The U.S. meddles in national affairs of other countries sometimes in the form of coup d'etat and sometimes under pretext of campaign against terrorism," he told the Parliament -- or Majlis -- on the 53rd anniversary anniversary of a U.S.- and British-sponsored coup d'etat that brought pro-Western Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to power.

"The U.S. has always raised a pretext for its interference. It meddled in Iraqi domestic affairs under a pretext to establish democracy and freedom in that country and the international campaign against terrorism," he said.