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Iran belongs to world's "nuclear club,": cleric

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has entered the world’s “nuclear club” and major powers should accept it, an influential cleric told worshippers on Friday, underlining Tehran’s defiance in a dispute with the West over its atomic activities.

Ahmad Khatami, a conservative hard-liner in the clerical establishment, also warned the major powers that Iran could “endanger your entire world” in any future confrontation.

The United States is lobbying U.N. Security Council members to back a fourth round of sanctions on Iran, to press it into curbing sensitive nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.

Iran, the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter, says its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity and has refused to bow to international pressure to halt it.

“In regard to the nuclear issue, you should regard the nuclearization of Iran as a bygone fact,” said Khatami, who is a member of a powerful clerical body, the Assembly of Experts.

“By God’s grace, Iran has entered the world countries’ nuclear club,” said in a sermon broadcast live on state radio.

The United States and Israel, Iran’s arch foes, have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row.

Iran, a predominantly Shi’ite Muslim state, has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests in the region and Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway crucial for global oil supplies.

Addressing the six world powers which are now discussing a possible new round of sanctions on Iran -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia -- Khatami said:

“If you should want to stand up against this religious (Islamic) system you would be standing up against the religion of God, and if you should want to confront our religion we will endanger your entire world.”

Khatami praised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attendance at this week’s start of the month-long review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Tehran and Washington accuse each other of violating.

In his May 3 speech at U.N. headquarters in New York, Ahmadinejad urged the United Nations to punish countries like the United States that threaten to use nuclear arms.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed Ahmadinejad’s comments as the “same tired, false and sometimes wild accusations,” and she urged nations to focus on efforts to bring Iran to heel over its nuclear program.

“Our president took part in this conference with full courage and intelligence,” Khatami said. “If anyone wants to see how effective this trip was they should look at the indignation of the arrogant powers.”

Reporting by Hashem Kalantari; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Diana Abdallah