Saturday, February 04, 2012

Iranian Cleric Delivers Major Address Amid Israel and US Threats

Iranian Religious Leader Delivers Speech

TEHRAN, Iran — A fiery anti-Israel speech by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered shortly after a successful Iranian satellite launch, added to growing global tensions Friday, as Israel warned it might mount a pre-emptive strike against the Islamic republic's nuclear facilities despite U.S. objections.

"From now onward, we will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world, and we are not afraid of declaring this," Khamenei said during a rare Friday prayer lecture at Tehran University.

Most of Khamenei's rhetoric was not new. But the timing and setting of his speech hardened a standoff that some analysts say has the potential to spark military action. Such a development would disrupt the international coalition that has emerged to confront Iran over its nuclear program and jeopardize oil markets and the fragile global economy.

The Obama administration is increasingly concerned Israel will strike Iranian nuclear facilities in the coming months. The administration also has repeatedly refused to rule out U.S. military action as a last resort.

Israeli leaders delivered blunt new warnings Thursday about what they called the need to stop Iran's nuclear program. Israel, the U.S. and their allies fear Iran could use its uranium-enrichment labs — which make nuclear fuel — to eventually produce weapons-grade material. Iran insists it seeks reactors only for energy and medical research.

Khamenei's speech, which comes ahead of a planned resumption of nuclear talks with the West, exemplified his view of Iran as the flag-bearer in battles against the "arrogant powers," a term used in Iranian political discourse to describe the United States and its allies.

U.S. and European sanctions, Khamenei said, are helping Iran to develop and will never succeed in halting the country's nuclear-enrichment program. "These sanctions are aimed at making Iran back down, but Iran will not back down," he said.

Khamenei's tone Friday differed from that struck recently by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said last month that Iran is ready for talks with the West.

While Khamenei did not mention the upcoming nuclear discussions, he made clear that compromises, such as suspending uranium enrichment, are not on the table. Iran has the upper hand in its standoff with the West, he indicated, because its opponents are "fading powers."

Khamenei also said Israel has become "weakened and isolated" in the Middle East because of the revolutions — he called them "Islamic awakenings" — that have spread through the region.

Khamenei's speech came hours after Iran's state-run media reported the country had launched a small satellite into space, carried by a homemade rocket.

The launch, planned and announced months ago, is part of a series of festivities celebrating the 33rd anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, which culminated in the collapse of the monarchy Feb. 11, 1979.

State-run television reported the microsatellite carries camera and telecommunication devices and was designed and manufactured in Iran. It is the third small satellite Iran has built and launched in the past few years.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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