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Iran leader sees Western plot, but no armed conflict

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the West on Thursday of plotting against the Islamic Republic, but he also said the possibility of military conflict was very small, state television reported.

Iran’s highest authority was speaking a day after the United States and other major powers told Tehran to prepare a “serious response” by October 1 to demands it halt its nuclear program or risk the consequences.

Khamenei made no mention of Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West, but focused on what Tehran sees as Western involvement in the unrest that erupted after its disputed election in June.

“The enemy has come to confront the Islamic establishment with a psychological war,” he was quoted as telling a meeting of a powerful clerical body, the Assembly of Experts. “One should not ignore the enemy’s plan to plot and sow discord.”

State television said Khamenei referred to the possibility of an outbreak of war, under the present conditions, as “very low.”

Neither Israel nor the United States, Iran’s arch foes, have ruled out possible military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment program, which Western powers suspect has military aims. Iran has refused, but has agreed to hold broad talks with six big powers on October 1.

Iran says it is working on a civilian nuclear energy program and is committed to non-proliferation safeguards.

“CLEAR PRESENCE”

The June 12 presidential election plunged Iran into a deep internal crisis and exposed deepening establishment rifts. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shored up his position this month when parliament approved most of his new government ministers.

The pro-reform opposition says the poll was rigged in the hardline president’s favor. The authorities deny charges of vote fraud and Khamenei swiftly endorsed Ahmadinejad’s victory.

Clearly referring to opposition figures, Khamenei said divisive statements and measures by some people stemmed from “ignorance and negligence” and called for unity.

The authorities have portrayed the huge opposition protests that followed the election as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state’s clerical leadership.

“As much effort as possible must be made in the direction of preservation and strengthening of religious and national unity,” Khamenei said. “When the enemy openly...took part in the post-election unrest how could one ignore this clear presence?”

Rights groups say thousands of people were detained after the vote. Most of them have since been freed, but more than 100 remain in jail, including senior reformist figures who have been put on trial charged with orchestrating post-election unrest.

Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Diana Abdallah

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