Iran promises missiles will fly if US attacks
Iran has threatened to retaliate with missile attacks if Western forces launch raids against the Islamic state's nuclear programme — putting on a defiant show of military force to back up the message.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressed a military parade in Teheran and mocked threats from the United States, while the head of the Revolutionary Guards said Iran would "pull the trigger" if attacked.
Their bellicose intervention came as officials in Washington warned that time was running out for the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, to "get a result" from diplomacy or hand the initiative to White House hawks who want military action.
Mr Ahmadinejad spoke out as he led a parade to mark Iran's war with Iraq, which included a flypast by three Saegheh jet fighters and armoured vehicles, one of which bore the slogan "Death to America".
In a message directed at Western diplomats, he told the crowds: "Those who think that by using such decayed tools as psychological warfare and economic sanctions, they can stop the Iranian nation's progress are making a mistake."
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The parade also featured medium-range ballistic missiles which are capable of hitting Israel or US bases in Iraq and the wider Gulf region.
Asked how Iran would respond if any country allowed its territory to be used as a base for an attack, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, said: "You have seen the -missiles. Just pull the trigger and shoot."
He added: "Our message to the enemies is: Do not do it. They will regret it, as they are regretting it in Iraq."
Mr Ahmadinejad today arrives in New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly where the US, Britain, France and Germany are drawing up plans for new sanctions against Iran.
Diplomats are conscious that firm action is needed this week to bolster the position of Miss Rice, who wants to show that diplomacy can isolate Iran and constrain Teheran's weapons programmes.
One official in Washington said: "Condi really needs to get a result to show other members of the administration that it's working."
He said that some officials believe the vice-president, Dick Cheney, has given her "just enough rope to hang herself" by pursuing the diplomatic route.
A state department source who wants the diplomacy to succeed, said that administration hawks had closely studied the international fallout from Israel's clandestine raid on Syria the week before — which US officials say was targeted at nuclear materials sold by North Korea — as a guide to how military action against Iran would be received.
"Their attitude is: where was the fuss? Some of them think they would get away with it in Iran," the source said.
UN Security Council members Russia and China have refused to back tougher action on Iran, so the Bush administration is assembling a diplomatic "coalition of the willing" — a phrase widely use before the war in Iraq — to set up US and European sanctions against the Iranian regime. These would punish banks and companies that deal with Iran.
A Western diplomat said: "The Americans are hugely frustrated that they can't get any more from the Russians and Chinese."
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