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Iran Vows To Crush Any Threat As US Steps Up Rhetoric

Iranian Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. Photo courtesy AFP.

Belarus, Iran sign memorandum of understanding on defense
Minsk (RIA Novosti) Jan 24 - A memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation was signed between Belarus and Iran during a visit by the ex-Soviet nation's defense minister to the Islamic Republic, the Belarusian ministry's press service said Wednesday. Leonid Maltsev arrived in Tehran January 21 on a two-day visit to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar. The parties agreed on two-way visits by expert delegations, military and technical cooperation, interaction in staff training, and consultations at the level of defense ministers.

The ministers discussed issues of international security, prospects for bilateral cooperation, and experience in forming national defense forces. The two countries have become increasingly isolated internationally over Iran's nuclear program and Belarus's poor human rights record. Both are subject to sanctions from Western powers. The Belarusian Defense Ministry said cooperation between Minsk and Tehran was in line with international laws and the sanctions against Iran set out in the resolution unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on December 23, 2006. The resolution banned activities involving uranium enrichment, chemical reprocessing, heavy water-based nuclear power projects, and the production of nuclear weapons delivery systems, but allowed officials to make foreign trips and Iranian companies to do business abroad.

by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) Jan 24, 2007
Iran vowed Wednesday it was ready to crush any military strike or threat as the United States and its allies turned up the rhetoric over Tehran's nuclear ambitions and its growing clout in the region. "The Islamic republic's armed forces are in a state of complete readiness and are monitoring everything in order to give a crushing response to even the smallest aggression or threat," Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

Najjar also urged the administration of US President George W. Bush to be "rational" with Iran, amid mounting speculation that arch-enemy Washington could be planning a strike on its nuclear installations.

"I advise Mr Bush and his advisors to be rational and think about their own nation's interest," he said.

Najjar's remarks came after Iran's outspoken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered another defiant message to the United States, saying: "They are not in a position to hurt us, they do not have the power to do so, their pressure is mostly psychological."

The United States has been at the forefront of the campaign to stop Iran's nuclear drive, saying it could be a cover for efforts to build atomic weapons, a claim vehemently denied by Tehran.

Iran has insisted it will not be diverted from its right to nuclear technology, despite a UN Security Council resolution last month which imposed sanctions over Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Washington has also taken Tehran to task for allegedly fomenting the violence in neighbouring Iraq and playing a role in the political turmoil in Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah is spearheading a campaign to bring down the Western-backed government.

Washington's ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Wednesday that the turmoil in Iraq was helping to boost the clout of Shiite-ruled Iran in the majority Sunni Arab region.

"Historically, Iraq has played a balancing role vis-a-vis Iran. Now that Iraq is a weakened state, it is helping the rise of the relative power of Iran," Khalilzad told reporters in Baghdad.

"Iran is a rising and increasingly important issue... Iran wants to be a dominant power."

US officials have repeatedly warned that Iran is supporting renegade Iraqi Shiite militias and providing weapons technology used by anti-US forces in Iraq.

Earlier this month, US troops arrested five Iranians from a liaison office in northern Iraq, accusing them of being agents for Tehran, arming militias and inciting anti-US attacks.

The arrests triggered a row, with Tehran accusing the US forces of violating international diplomatic regulations.

US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns also warned on Tuesday that Washington would not allow Iran to "control" the oil-rich Gulf and had sent two carrier battle groups to the region in recent weeks.

And Jordanian King Abdullah II, who once warned that a Shiite crescent was taking shape across the region, also weighed in to the standoff on Wednesday.

"We wish to see positive and balanced relations between Iraq and Iran, and between Arab countries and Iran," he told the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview also carried by Jordan's Petra news agency.

"We believe that Iran must refrain from seeking to rattle stability in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq and any other part of the region so that we can make progress towards building such relations," he said.

"The situation in Iraq is very dangerous and complicated. If sectarian strife in Iraq persists it will set ablaze everything in its path and spread to all the countries in the region," he said.

"We hope the efforts of all of Iraq's neighbours, including Iran, will focus on helping Iraq avoid civil war."

earlier related report
Israeli PM warns of 'severe steps' against Iran
Herzliya (AFP) Jan 24 - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday warned that if the world's diplomatic efforts to stop Iran's nuclear programme fail, then "much more severe steps" should be taken. "It is clear to everyone that a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue is the preferred solution. We also prefer such an outcome," Olmert said in a keynote speech on the last day of the annual conference on Israel's national security in the town of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

If the world turns "a blind eye now, while ignoring reality... those of us who wish to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power will, down the road, not be left with any choice but to take much more severe steps in the future," he said.

Israel and the West accuse Iran of seeking to acquire an atomic bomb through its nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is solely for peaceful purposes.

Coupled with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, Israel -- considered the sole nuclear power in the Middle East -- has come to consider the Islamic republic as an existential threat.

"Anyone who threatens us, who threatens our existence, must know that we have the determination and capability to defend ourselves, responding with force, discretion and with all means at our disposal," Olmert said.

But he also reassured the Isaeli public that "as serious as the Iranian threat is, the threat of a nuclear attack on Israel is in no way imminent."

He welcomed United Nations Security Council Resolution 1703, passed last month, which calls for sanctions against Iran for non-compliance over its nuclear programme of uranium enrichment.

"Iran is very vulnerable and sensitive to international pressure, despite its defiant, arrogant and provocative stance, and it is already paying the ever-increasing price for its behaviour," Olmert said.

On Sunday a senior US official told the Herzliya conference that the pressure exerted by the United States and the international community on Iran over its nuclear programme had put Tehran on the defensive.

"Iran is no longer on the offensive but on the defensive and we have to keep it on the defensive," Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said. "Iran has to learn how to respect the power and the will of the international community."

earlier related report
Iranians, Americans see room for compromise in nuclear row: poll
Washington (AFP) Jan 24 - Most Iranians and Americans believe there is room for compromise on their nuclear row and reject the idea that conflict between Islam and the West is inevitable, according to a poll released Wednesday. The public opinion survey conducted in Iran and the United States showed that while majorities in both countries are deeply suspicious of each other, they nonetheless agree on a wide range of issues.

"This survey shows that between the United States and Iran, there is more common ground than one might readily assume from seeing how government leaders interact with each other," Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which commissioned the poll, told AFP.

"It shows that Iran is not bent on isolating itself, is not bent on polarizing with the West and is actually looking for some kind of intermediary resolution to the nuclear issue," added Kull.

According to the survey, 84 percent of Iranians believe their country must have the capacity to enrich uranium for nuclear energy, despite the UN Security Council resolution calling on the Islamic republic to cease enrichment.

Nonetheless, 66 percent of those questioned agree that Iran should comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which forbids Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

A parallel poll carried out in the United States shows that a majority of Americans would support a deal allowing Iran to enrich uranium to produce nuclear power but not nuclear weapons. In return, Iran would have to allow UN inspectors full access.

Fifty five percent of Americans believe this would be a good compromise while 38 percent feel it's a bad idea.

"What really stands out is the degree to which the Iranians do seem quite determined to enrich uranium and at the same time they seem quite committed to the NPT regime," Kull said.

Both publics rejected the idea that conflict is inevitable between Islam and the West and that religious and social traditions are incompatible between the two.

Still, when questioned about attitudes toward each other, 76 percent of Iranians said they have negative opinions of the United States and 93 percent feel that way about the Bush administration. Their attitudes toward Americans are divided with 45 percent favorable and 49 percent unfavorable.

Most Americans, 78 percent, see the Iranian government negatively and 59 percent feel that way about the Iranian people.

Both publics expressed interest in improving relations and by majorities said they were concerned about international terrorism.

The poll in Iran was conducted between October and December of last year and involved 1,000 people who were interviewed face-to-face in rural as well as urban areas. The survey in the United States concerned 1,004 people and was conducted in December.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Hawks And Doves Over Iran
Washington (UPI) Jan 24, 2007
"Cataclysmic ... Apocalyptic," said Gianfranco Fini, Italy's former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, and leader of the National Alliance. He had just been asked for the likely reaction of America's NATO allies in the event of Israeli and/or U.S. air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.

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