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Ahmadinejad says ready to act if attacked

MANAMA (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday Iran was ready to respond if attacked, but played down the prospect of war with the United States.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at opening ceremony of 44th General Assembly Asian-Pacific Broadcasting Union in Tehran, November 3, 2007. Ahmadinejad said on Saturday Iran was ready to respond if attacked, but played down the prospect of war with the United States. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Ahmadinejad was speaking during a visit to Bahrain which came amid mounting concerns in the Gulf that the United States could launch military action against Iran, although Washington says it is committed to a diplomatic solution to a crisis over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“We never want any war in this region, but from another front, we have made all preparations, and if there is any suspicion on this matter, then we are ready,” said Ahmadinejad, speaking through an interpreter.

“I want to confirm again that we don’t think there will be a war in the region,” he told reporters, without giving reasons.

Ahmadinejad earlier told Al Arabiya television that the United States had no political, economic or military grounds for attack, and dismissed the U.S. military as “shabby”.

The West accuses Iran of trying to build a nuclear bomb, but Iran says its nuclear ambitions are to generate electricity.

In a report on Thursday the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Iran had become more open in outlining its nuclear activities, but key questions remained unanswered. Washington says partial disclosure is not enough, and is pushing for sanctions.

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Ahmadinejad challenged labelling the standoff a crisis, and said Iran had cooperated fully with the nuclear watchdog.

“We do not feel there is a crisis in this region ... or do countries in the region ... We think the crisis is in Washington,” he said.

Ahmadinejad held talks on bilateral, regional and international issues with Bahraini royals and politicians, he said, but no new initiative to dampen tensions was announced. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa called for more diplomacy.

Saudi Arabia this month proposed to set up a consortium that would provide Iran with enriched uranium for peaceful purposes, but Iran said it would not halt its own enrichment programme.

Gulf Arab countries are among those with the most to lose in the event of a conflict between Iran and the West, and have consistently warned against any slide into war.

The Gulf is the world’s top oil exporting region, and its economies are booming on a near five-fold increase in oil prices since 2002.

Ahmadinejad called for greater cooperation with Gulf states to work together against what he said were U.S. plans to foster tension in the region. He later left Bahrain to attend an OPEC heads of state summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Reporting by Mohammed Abbas