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. Iran says forces ready for any threat
TEHRAN, Jan 20 (AFP) Jan 20, 2007
Iran's top nuclear negotiator has declared that the nation's armed forces are ready to face any threat to its nuclear installations, local media reported Saturday, amid speculation Washington may be planning a military strike.

"The Islamic republic's armed forces are completely ready to confront any probable threats by the enemies," Ali Larijani was quoted as saying Thursday after meeting top clerics in the religious center of Qom.

However, he downplayed the possibility of Iranian nuclear facilities being hit, insisting: "Our enemies do not have such power."

"Our enemies have waged a psychological war in order to make us retreat from our nuclear positions," he said.

It is the second time this week that officials involved in the Islamic republic's nuclear program have sought to dismiss the likelihood of a military strike against atomic installations.

Earlier this week, Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said a military strike was highly unlikely, but that Tehran had nevertheless taken the necessary precautions.

The United States and Israel, Iran's two arch-enemies, have never ruled out military action to thwart its nuclear program, which they allege is aimed at making an atomic weapon.

But US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this week that the United States did not want a conflict with Iran, but voiced concern about its actions.

"I don't think anyone wants another military conflict in this region, but there clearly is concern about Iranian ambitions, and they certainly expect the United States to play a role in containing those ambitions," he said during a Middle East tour aimed at rallying Arab allies against Iran.

The United States, whose forces are battling insurgents in Iraq, accuses both Iran and Syria of fomenting violence there and earlier this month seized five Iranians whom Tehran insists are diplomats.

Larijani's comments came as Washington on Friday stuck by its demand that Iran freeze uranium enrichment, a key phase of the nuclear fuel cycle, before any bilateral talks.

"As soon as the Iranians stop their nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will sit down with them for discussions," US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told AFP.

EU officials also said they would call next week for the full and rapid implementation of UN Security Council sanctions.

The Security Council passed Resolution 1737 on December 23 imposing sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend enrichment -- the process which can make nuclear fuel as well as the fissile core of an atom bomb in highly purified forms.

Iran, OPEC's second largest oil exporter, insists its nuclear program is solely aimed at meeting peaceful energy needs.

Both major US political parties have backed a legislation requiring US President George W. Bush to get congressional approval for using military force against Iran.

Tehran and Washington severed diplomatic ties in 1980 after students stormed the US embassy in Tehran following the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the US-backed Shah.

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