(AFP) – Jul 8, 2008
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran would "set fire" to Israel and the US navy in the Gulf as its first response to any American attack over its nuclear programme, an aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on Tuesday.
"The first US shot on Iran would set the United States' vital interests in the world on fire," said Ali Shirazi, a mid-ranking cleric who is Khamenei's representative to the naval forces of the elite Revolutionary Guards.
"Tel Aviv and the US fleet in the Persian Gulf would be the targets that would be set on fire in Iran's crushing response," he said, according to the Fars news agency.
The United States and its top regional ally Israel have never ruled out attacking Iran over its nuclear drive, which the West fears could be aimed at making nuclear weapons.
There has been concern an attack against Iran could be imminent after it emerged Israel had carried out manoeuvres in Greece that were effectively practice runs for a potential strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Shirazi said "the Zionist regime is pressuring the White House leaders to plan a military assault on Iran" and Iran would react "if they commit such a stupidity."
It was not clear if he was referring to Tel Aviv as a city or as shorthand for the Jewish state as a whole, which the Islamic republic does not recognise.
Iran has repeatedly warned of a crushing response to any aggression against its soil but more specific warnings of the kind delivered by Shirazi are relatively unusual.
His comments came as the Revolutionary Guards embarked on a new round of war games to sharpen their combat readiness amid continued tensions in the Iranian nuclear crisis.
The Great Prophet III manoeuvres by the missile and naval sections of the Revolutionary Guards are aimed at "improving the combat capability" of the forces, Fars reported.
The Guards are responsible for Iran's most significant ballistic missiles including the Shahab-3 missile, whose range puts Israel and US bases in the Gulf within reach.
US and British warships on Tuesday also completed a five-day exercise aimed at rehearsing protection of oil installations in the Gulf, the Bahrain-based US 5th Fleet said.
Speaking at a summit of developing nations in Malaysia, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Iran would "cut the finger" of any hand that "pulled the trigger" but brushed off the threat of US President George W. Bush ordering an attack.
"His wise scholars will not allow Mr Bush to commit political suicide and of course the economic, political and military situation will not allow Mr. Bush to do that."
However diplomatic efforts are also continuing. Iran has responded to an offer from world powers to end the nuclear crisis and diplomats are analysing what is said to be a complex answer from Tehran.
The offer from world powers proposes that Iran suspend uranium enrichment -- the process which they fear could be used to make a nuclear weapon -- in exchange for technological incentives.
However the French foreign ministry confirmed that Iran does not say in its response it is prepared to suspend uranium enrichment.
"The fact that there is no mention of suspending sensitive activities is clearly an issue," said foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.
Iran's ambassador to Britain Rassoul Movahedian told the official IRNA news agency that the West was "just wasting its time" by insisting that Tehran should suspend enrichment.
Several Iranian officials last week sounded optimistic notes about the package that contrasted with the hard line of President Ahmadinejad, sparking speculation that the authorities were split on the issue.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who presented the package in Tehran on behalf of the six world powers last month, has described the response as a "complicated and difficult letter that must be thoroughly analysed".
Speaking at the G8 summit in Japan, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the world powers planned to send Solana back to Iran to discuss "the differences between their latest proposals and the ones that were already on the table."
But Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said that while preparations were being made for a meeting between Solana and top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, the date and location had not been determined.
Iran rejects the Western accusations and insists its nuclear programme is aimed solely at generating energy for a growing population whose fossil fuel reserves will eventually run out.
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