- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad branded Israeli leaders “a group of terrorists” yesterday, after Israel’s prime minister warned Tehran would have “a price to pay” if it does not roll back its nuclear program.

The exchange was among the harshest from either leader, and reflected tension ahead of the planned circulation next week of a U.N. draft resolution on Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Ahmadinejad called the U.N. Security Council and all its decisions “illegitimate” and said the world body was being used as a tool of Iran’s enemies — the United States and Britain.

Across Iran, millions took to the streets on “Al-Quds Day,” — Arabic for Jerusalem Day — a national holiday the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini established to assert Muslim claims on the holy city. Rallies took place in Cairo, Beirut, Baghdad and elsewhere across the Islamic world.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, speaking to a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Tehran, threatened any country that supports Israel, and said the United States and its allies had “imposed a group of terrorists” on the region by their support of the Jewish state.

“It is in your own interest to distance yourself from these criminals. … This is an ultimatum. Don’t complain tomorrow,” he cautioned. “Nations will take revenge.”

His comments came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that Iran would have “a price to pay” if it does not give up its nuclear ambitions — and hinted Israel might be forced to take action.

He did not specifically threaten to cripple Iran’s nuclear program with a military strike, as Israel did 25 years ago in Iraq when it sent combat planes to destroy an unfinished nuclear reactor. But Mr. Olmert, on his way home from a three-day trip to Moscow, said Thursday the Iranians should “be afraid” of the consequences of their defiance.

“They have to understand that if they object to every compromise, there will be a price to pay,” he said.

Yesterday, Israel’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said Israel cannot ignore the threat of a nuclear Iran. “This combination of nuclear weapons and an extreme regime, which has the clear goal of destroying Israel, is a combination to which we cannot remain indifferent,” he said.

Israel also accused the Iranian government of paying $50 million to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to block a deal that would have freed an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-linked militants in June.

Diplomats have said they will seek limited sanctions against Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment — a key process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead.

Iran claims enrichment as a national right, but says its program aims only to generate electricity. The United States and some in Europe accuse Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for Israel to be wiped off the map, again predicted the Jewish state’s demise yesterday.

“This regime, thanks to God, has lost the reason for its existence,” he said. “You should believe that this regime is disappearing.”

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