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Iran Warns Of Preemptive Strike To Prevent Attack On Nuclear Sites

DOHA, Aug 18 (AFP) - Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani warned Wednesday that Iran might launch a preemptive strike against US forces in the region to prevent an attack on its nuclear facilities.

"We will not sit (with arms folded) to wait for what others will do to us. Some military commanders in Iran are convinced that preventive operations which the Americans talk about are not their monopoly," Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera TV when asked if Iran would respond to an American attack on its nuclear facilities.

"America is not the only one present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf and we can be present in Iraq," said Shamkhani, speaking in Farsi to the Arabic-language news channel through an interpreter.

"The US military presence (in Iraq) will not become an element of strength (for Washington) at our expense. The opposite is true, because their forces would turn into a hostage" in Iranian hands in the event of an attack, he said.

Shamkhani, who was asked about the possibility of an American or Israeli strike against Iran`s atomic power plant in Bushehr, added: "We will consider any strike against our nuclear installations as an attack on Iran as a whole, and we will retaliate with all our strength.

"Where Israel is concerned, we have no doubt that it is an evil entity, and it will not be able to launch any military operation without an American green light. You cannot separate the two."

A commander of Iran`s elite Revolutionary Guards was quoted in the Iranian press earlier Wednesday as saying that Tehran would strike the Israeli reactor at Dimona if Israel attacks the Islamic republic`s own burgeoning nuclear facilities.

"If Israel fires one missile at Bushehr atomic power plant, it should permanently forget about Dimona nuclear center, where it produces and keeps its nuclear weapons, and Israel would be responsible for the terrifying consequence of this move," General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr warned.

Iran`s controversial bid to generate nuclear power at its plant being built at Bushehr is seen by arch-enemies Israel and the United States as a cover for nuclear weapons development.

The latest comments mark an escalation in an exchange of threats between Israel and Iran in recent weeks, leading to speculation that there may be a repeat of Israel`s strike against Iraqi nuclear facilities at Osirak in 1981.

Iran insists that its nuclear intentions are peaceful, while pointing at its enemy`s alleged nuclear arsenal, which Israel neither confirms nor denies possessing.

Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera it was not possible "from a practical standpoint" to destroy Iran`s nuclear programs because they are the product of national skills "which cannot be eliminated by military means."

He also warned that Iran would consider itself no longer bound by its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the event of an attack.

"The execution of such threats (to attack Iran`s nuclear installations) would mean that our cooperation with the IAEA led to feeding information about our nuclear facilities to the attacking side, which (in turn) means that we would no longer be bound by any of our obligations" to the nuclear watchdog, he said.

Diplomats said in Vienna Tuesday that the IAEA would not say in a report next month whether Iran`s nuclear activities are of a military nature, nor will it recommend bringing the case before the UN Security Council.

The IAEA board is due to deliver the report on Iran`s nuclear activities during a meeting at the organization`s headquarters in Vienna from September 13 after the last of a group of IAEA inspectors returned from Iran last week.

The UN`s nuclear agency is conducting a major probe into Iran`s bid to generate electricity through nuclear power.

The Islamic republic has agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment pending the completion of the IAEA probe, but is working on other parts of the fuel cycle and has recently resumed making centrifuges used for enrichment.

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