Iran foreign minister dismisses threat of attack

by JOHN HEILPRIN (source: The Associated Press)
Wednesday, July 2, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — Iran's foreign minister on Wednesday dismissed talk of a U.S. or Israeli attack against his country, calling the prospect of another war in the Middle East "craziness."

He spoke as President Bush also sought to tamp down speculation of any military action to stop Iran from developing its nuclear program.

Manouchehr Mottaki said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that he does not believe Israel or the United States would act while the U.S. economy is suffering and the United States is bogged down in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We do not foresee such a possibility at the moment. The Israeli government is facing a political breakdown within itself and within the region, so we do not foresee such a possibility for that regime to resort to such craziness," he said. "The United States, too, is not in a position where it can engage in, take another risk in the region.

"Of course, there are people in the United States who are interested in that. But we think that the rational thinkers in the United States will prevent from that action being taken, and will prevent the imposition of another adventuresome act that would put pressure on the American taxpayers."

However, Mottaki pointedly did not rule out trying to restrict oil traffic in the strategic Strait of Hormuz if Iran was attacked. "In Iran we must defend our national security, our country and our revolutionary system and we will continue to do so," he said.

Mottaki said Iran would prefer a diplomatic route, but if confronted with military action that could change. In that case, he said, "Politicians must step aside a bit and allow the military to make decisions."

Iran's top diplomat is in New York for talks at the United Nations. He hinted there has been diplomatic progress on easing tensions with the West at a time of heightened concern that Israel might be preparing a military strike on Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities.

His visit also comes on the heels of a report by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker that the United States has stepped up covert action intended to destabilize Iran's religious leadership.

Last month, the U.S. and its partners offered a package to Iran that included assistance for its civil nuclear program and development aid in exchange for an agreement by Iran to end nuclear enrichment. Iran claims that program is for peaceful purposes; Western powers say they suspect its true aim is to develop nuclear weapons.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, presented the package on behalf of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.

Mottaki said Iran was still examining the proposal and would respond shortly. Alluding to news reports that Iran's answer would come in two weeks, he added: "Maybe even sooner."

He also praised as "very constructive" Solano's response to Iran's proposals on the subject. Mottaki said he saw "significant capacities" being explored in the latest round talks that were not present earlier.

Mottaki, in the interview conducted at AP's world headquarters in New York, struck a generally conciliatory tone toward the United States, saying political and diplomatic solutions were Iran's preference and that he sees improvements in the U.S. tone recently as well as in some recent diplomatic offerings to Iran.

But if Iran is attacked, he said, it would respond as "any independent country."

He also blamed the recent rise in oil prices globally in part on political tensions in the Middle East.

In Washington, President Bush said all options are on the table with regard to Iran and its nuclear program, but said military action would not be his first choice in the months remaining in his presidency.

"I have made it very clear to all parties that the first option ought to be solve this problem diplomatically," Bush said. "And the best way to solve it diplomatically is for the United States to work with other nations to send a focused message — and that is, you will be isolated, and you will have economic hardship, if you continue to enrich."

In Madrid, Iran's oil minister warned Wednesday that an attack on his country would provoke a fierce response "that nobody can imagine." Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said, however, that Tehran would not cut oil deliveries and would continue supplying the market even if struck by Israel or the United States.

A senior U.S. military commander said Wednesday that Washington would not permit Iran to choke off the Strait of Hormuz.

Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the 5th Fleet, said any such attempt by Iran would be "saying to the world that 40 percent of oil is now held hostage by a single country."

"We will not allow Iran to close it," he told reporters.

Mottaki said he believes Iran is misunderstood and misrepresented, and again denied any ambition by Tehran for nuclear weapons. He held out the possibility of exchanging interest sections with the United States and with direct flights between Iran and the United States.

"Both discussions can be examined by both countries and people," he said.

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