- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

TEHRAN — Iran boasted yesterday it could defeat any American military action over its nuclear drive, in one of the Islamic regime’s boldest challenges yet to the United States.

“You can start a war but it won’t be you who finishes it,” said Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, the head of the Revolutionary Guards and among the regime’s most powerful figures.

“The Americans know better than anyone that their troops in the region and in Iraq are vulnerable. I would advise them not to commit such a strategic error,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran.

“I would advise them to first get out of their quagmire in Iraq before getting into an even bigger one,” Gen. Safavi said with a grin.

“We have American forces in the region under total surveillance. For the past two years, we have been ready for any scenario, whether sanctions or an attack.”

Iran announced this week it had successfully enriched uranium on a small scale that could be used for nuclear reactors. The claim represented a direct challenge to the United States and the U.N. Security Council, which has demanded that Iran halt enrichment activities by April 28.

The Islamic regime says it only wants to generate atomic energy, but enrichment can be extended to make the fissile core of a nuclear warhead.

At a Friday prayer sermon in Tehran yesterday, senior cleric Ayatollah Ahmad branded the U.S. as a “decaying power” lacking the “stamina” to block Iran’s ambitions.

And hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Agence France-Presse that a U.S. push for tough U.N. sanctions was of “no importance.”

“She is free to say whatever she wants,” the president replied when asked to respond to comments by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice highlighting part of the U.N. charter that provides for sanctions backed up by the threat of military action.

“We give no importance to her comments,” he said with a broad smile.

On Thursday, Miss Rice said that faced with Iran’s intransigence, the United States “will look at the full range of options available to the United Nations.”

Miss Rice spoke as Iran also dismissed a personal appeal from the U.N. atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Mr. ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), must give a report at the end of April on Iranian compliance with the Security Council demand.

Although the United States has been prodding the council to take a tough stand against the Islamic republic, including possible sanctions, it has run into opposition from veto-wielding members Russia and China.

Representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are to meet in Moscow Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

The State Department said yesterday that the United States plans to propose sanctions on Iran that would include a freeze on assets and restrictions on visas.

At the Tehran conference, Iran continued to thumb its nose at the United States and Israel.

“The Zionist regime is an injustice and by its very nature a permanent threat,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told the gathering of regime officials, visiting Palestinian militant leaders and foreign sympathizers.

“Whether you like it or not, the Zionist regime is on the road to being eliminated,” said Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose regime does not recognize Israel and who drew international condemnation last year when he said Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

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