March 21, 2007 / 6:00 PM / 12 years ago

Leader says Iran will retaliate if attacked

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (L) and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) listen as Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks to members of the Expediency Council in Tehran March 12, 2007. Khamenei warned on Wednesday Iran would hit back with everything it has if attacked over its disputed nuclear program, according to provincial television monitored by the BBC. REUTERS/Stringer

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on Wednesday Iran would hit back with everything it has if attacked over its nuclear program, which the United States believes is aimed at making atom bombs.

Khamenei, who has previously threatened U.S. regional interests if attacked, was speaking in the northeastern city of Mashhad to mark the Iranian new year, which falls on March 21.

“If they want to threaten us and use force and violence against us, they should not doubt that Iranian officials will use all they have in their power to deal a blow to those who assault them,” he said in an address carried by Iranian television news.

The United Nations Security Council is considering new sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program, whose product can be used to make fuel for power generation or, when more highly enriched, nuclear weapons.

Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter, insists the program is peaceful and aimed solely at generating electricity.

Khamenei said Iran’s nuclear work followed international rules, but if major powers via the Security Council took “illegal actions” and ignored Iran’s rights, “we can also carry out illegal actions and we will do that.”

Washington has said it would prefer a diplomatic solution to the standoff, but has not ruled out military options.

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