TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran warned the United States on Wednesday it would find itself in a “quagmire deeper than Iraq” if it attacked the Islamic state, and Russia intensified efforts for a diplomatic solution to Tehran’s nuclear row with the West.
The warning by the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, a target of new U.S. sanctions announced last week, added to angry rhetoric between the two old foes that has prompted speculation of possible U.S. military action.
U.S. President George W. Bush has suggested a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three. Washington says it wants a diplomatic solution but a U.S. official said on Wednesday more “tough-minded diplomacy” was needed to make that work.
“If the enemies show inexperience and want to invade Islamic Iran, they will receive a strong slap from Iran,” Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said in comments carried by the semi-official Fars News Agency.
“The enemy knows that if it attacks Iran it will be trapped in a quagmire deeper than Iraq and Afghanistan, and they will have to withdraw with defeat,” he told a parade in north-central Iran, without mentioning the United States by name.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany are expected to meet in London on Friday to discuss a possible third round of U.N. sanctions, said U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns.
“It’s very important that the Security Council stay united and focused on this and that the third resolution be passed,” he told reporters in Paris. “If we want diplomacy to succeed, we’re going to have to see more tough-minded diplomacy.”
He said this should include European sanctions on Iran, which some large EU members are reluctant to pursue.
The United States has refused to rule out military action if diplomacy fails. Iran has so far refused to heed U.N. demands to halt nuclear work that has both civilian and military uses.
Burns was to meet International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna on Thursday in hopes of learning whether Iran is honoring an August deal with the U.N. watchdog to answer questions about past secrecy in its program.
Hoping to ward off harsher sanctions on its oil-dependent economy, Iran agreed to resolve such suspicions in a series of talks, the latest round happening this week, by year-end but the two sides have kept quiet about the process.
ElBaradei will report on it to the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors in mid-November. If Iran has not answered sensitive questions by then, Western powers say they will move to have tougher U.N. sanctions adopted.
Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program are one of the factors that have pushed oil prices to record highs of over $90 a barrel in recent days.
Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, says dialogue rather than punishment or talk of military action offers the best way to ease tension over Iran. It says the IAEA process should be given time to run its course.
Speaking after talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday evening, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to a transcript from his ministry:
“We encouraged the Iranian leadership to undertake further — and preferably more active — work with the IAEA to clear up those questions which have been raised by the agency with regard to the Iranian nuclear program’s past.”
Lavrov, visiting two weeks after a trip to Tehran by President Vladimir Putin, said he “underlined the importance of closing these questions as soon as possible, in order to restore trust in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s activities.”
Among the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, Britain and France back a tough line on Iran. China, like Russia, has opposed early steps to broaden economic sanctions, saying Iran should be given longer to cooperate with the IAEA.
The Security Council has already adopted two sets of limited sanctions on Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process to make fuel for nuclear power plants that can also, if refined further, provide material for bombs.
Additional reporting by Moscow bureau, Ross Colvin in Baghdad, Arshad Mohammed in Washington and by Zahra Hosseinian and Edmund Blair in Tehran