FEB 2 2006


Iran's foreign minister yesterday threatened immediate retaliation


Iran's foreign minister yesterday threatened immediate retaliation over a move to refer its nuclear activities to the United Nations security council in comments which deepen his country's confrontation with the international community.


In an interview with the Guardian his first with western media Manouchehr Mottaki accused the US of manufacturing the crisis and insisted there was still time to avoid a collision.


But he warned that any military action by the US or Israel against Iran would have "severe consequences" and would be countered "by all means" at Iran's disposal.


Reflecting a hardening Iranian position, he threatened to end snap UN inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities and all other voluntary cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, if Iran is referred to the UN today or tomorrow.


He also vowed that Iran will match any sanctions with measures of its own and warned that the west would quickly regret any resort to military action. The escalating crisis could further destabilise the Middle East by intensifying US and British difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and could spell an end to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.


Mr Mottaki, who was appointed by Iran's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in September, said Iranian retaliation would come "simultaneously" with any decision on referral by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, which meets in emergency session in Vienna today. Iran had not ruled out further steps, including withdrawal from the NPT and the permanent ejection of UN inspectors.


"If the Iran dossier is reported to the security council, the additional protocol [which allows UN inspectors to conduct snap inspections] will be the first victim," he said.

Asked whether Iran was prepared to use its leverage in Iraq, where Iran has been accused of aiding attacks on British troops, and elsewhere in the region, Mr Mottaki said Tehran's actions would "correspond" to western political, military and economic pressure.


Israel, along with the US, has not ruled out air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails. "Iran does not think that the Zionist regime is in a condition to engage in such a dangerous venture and they know how severe the possible Iranian response will be to its possible audacity," Mr Mottaki said.


 "Suffice to say that the Zionist regime, if they attack, will regret it." That message was underscored yesterday by Iran's defence minister who said that any attack on Iran would bring "a crushing response".


Mr Mottaki said the US, even with 200,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, was unable to impose its will on the region. "It would be better for President Bush to spend the second half of his presidency governing his country in a calmer manner." He urged Britain and other European countries to postpone a decision on UN referral until a scheduled meeting of the IAEA on March 6. "There's still time for our European friends to take a wise decision not to take wrong steps."


The foreign minister said Mr Bush had lied to the American people about Iran in his state of the union speech on Tuesday night and he rejected any chance of direct contacts with the US. The Guardian interview in London was held before Mr Mottaki had talks with Jack Straw, the foreign secretary. A Foreign Office spokesman said later: "Mottaki was warned not to walk away from the IAEA additional protocol or to make threats."


Today's showdown at the IAEA follows Iran's decision to resume uranium enrichment research last month, a move condemned by Britain, France and Germany as a breach of earlier undertakings.


Western countries suspect Iran's civil nuclear programme will be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. But Iran says it has an inalienable right to civil nuclear power and denies seeking the bomb.


Mr Bush, in his Tuesday speech, called Iran "a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people". But Mr Mottaki said the president's attempt to appeal to the Iranian people was doomed to failure. "Six days from now in the Ashura ceremony [a Shia Muslim festival] in Tehran, the Iranian people will respond to Mr Bush's comments."


Mr Ahmadinejad, who also rejected the US president's comments yesterday, described the US as a "hollow superpower" that is "tainted with the blood of nations".


Mr Mottaki came to London for a two-day conference on the future of Afghanistan. In a further indication of hostility towards Israel, he urged Hamas, winner of last week's Palestinian elections, to continue its policy of armed struggle. "The victory is the victory of the resistance," he said. "Our impression is they will insist on the continuation of resistance until the rights of the Palestinian people are secure."








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