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Iran’s top leader has fighting words for U.S.

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Thursday that if the United States attacked, Iran would strike American interests worldwide.

Speaking to a gathering of air force commanders, Khamenei said, “The enemy knows well that any invasion would be followed by a comprehensive reaction to the invaders and their interests all over the world.”

“Some people say that the U.S. president is not prone to calculating the consequences of his actions,” Khamenei said in remarks broadcast on state television, “but it is possible to bring this kind of person to wisdom.”

“U.S. policymakers and analysts know that the Iranian nation would not let an invasion go without a response,” Khamenei added.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates used a NATO gathering in Spain to reiterate that Washington had no intention of attacking Iran and that the Pentagon was not overly concerned by Khamenei’s warning.

“My impression is that they make threats like this from time to time,” Gates said.

Gates also sought to play down claims by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that it had test-fired a missile that could sink large ships.

“It’s just another day in the Persian Gulf,” Gates said.

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The U.S. recently sent a second aircraft carrier battle group to the gulf, a deployment that Pentagon officials have described as a show of strength aimed at Tehran.

Iran and the U.S. have been in an increasingly tense standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. The friction has worsened recently because of U.S. allegations of Iranian influence in Iraq.

In another sign of the tensions, Iran’s intelligence minister said the government had detected a network of U.S. and Israeli spies, and had detained a second group of people who planned to go abroad for espionage training, state television reported. It gave few details.

The allegations come just a few days after an Iranian diplomat was detained in Baghdad in an incident Iran blamed on U.S. forces. The Americans have denied involvement in the diplomat’s detention.

Iranian leaders often speak of a crushing response to any U.S. attack. Although the remarks are seen as an attempt to drum up national support, Iran’s positions on Iraq and its nuclear program have provoked harsher international and especially U.S. pressure in recent months.

In addition to sending the second carrier group, President Bush has ordered U.S. troops to act against Iranians suspected of being involved in Iraq’s violence. The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions because of Iran’s refusal to cease uranium enrichment and this month is to consider strengthening them.


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