Iran's leader warns US against strike

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The Independent Online

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned that US interests would be "harmed anywhere in the world" if the US resorted to military strikes over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme.

"The Iranian nation will respond to any blow with double the intensity," he said in a statement issued two days before the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, is expected to deliver his verdict on Iranian co-operation with a UN-led drive to curb its nuclear ambitions.

British diplomats said they expected Mr ElBaradei's report to be negative, given Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

Iran says its intentions are peaceful and stresses that it is working in co-operation with the IAEA and within the limits of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

However, the US, backed by Britain and France, are expected to step up pressure next week for Iran to be compelled by a UN security council resolution to resume a freeze on nuclear enrichment. Russia and China are resisting such a resolution.

The split within the council means that any UN action is likely to be weeks away. "In the next few weeks we hope to finalise a consensus on a game plan," said one diplomat.

Alaeddin Borojerdi, the head of the Iran's foreign relations committee, said in London yesterday that prospects of US military strikes was the least likely option, "because the security of the Persian Gulf is tied up with the world's economic affairs, and it would be natural for the Islamic Republic of Iran not to sit idle".