Iran ups ante,says it can launch first strike if threatened

Divisions in Iran’s leadership make it difficult to interpret the government’s intentions,but the statement showed a new level of aggressiveness in Iran’s rhetoric.

Written by New York Times | London | Published: February 22, 2012 2:24 am

As tension grew in its nuclear dispute with the West,Iran was reported on Tuesday to have struck an increasingly bellicose tone,warning that it would take pre-emptive action against perceived foes if it felt its national interests were threatened.

The warning by the deputy head of its armed forces,quoted by a semi-official news agency,came as Tehran also appeared to place limits on a visit by a team of United Nations nuclear officials,saying the investigators would not go to nuclear facilities,despite earlier reports that its members had sought permission to inspect a military complex outside Tehran.

Growing tensions over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme have provoked speculation that Israel may be contemplating a military strike against nuclear facilities,which Tehran says are for peaceful purposes but which the West suspects are inching toward the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Without mentioning Israel directly,Mohammed Hejazi,the deputy armed forces head,said on Tuesday: “Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests,and want to decide to do that,we will act without waiting for their actions,” Reuters reported. Divisions in Iran’s leadership make it difficult to interpret the government’s intentions,but the statement showed a new level of aggressiveness in Iran’s rhetoric.

The statement came a day after a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Tehran for the second time in three weeks. The Associated Press quoted the Foreign Ministry spokesman,Ramin Mehmanparast,as saying the investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency,who arrived in Tehran on Monday,had no plans to visit the contentious nuclear sites,which the West maintains are part of a covert weapons programme.

Shortly after the IAEA team arrived for talks with Iranian officials,the Iranian government signalled that it might expand a ban on oil shipments to Britain and France,announced on Sunday,to cover other European powers that it deems “hostile” because of broader economic sanctions by the European Union that are scheduled to come into force on July 1. Iran’s deputy oil minister,Ahmad Qalebani,said oil exports to Spain,the Netherlands,Greece,Germany,Italy and Portugal might also be banned.

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