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Iran calls Israeli threats 'childish'

Sees more pressure over nuclear program

TEHRAN -- Iran said yesterday that Israel would be making a ''fatal mistake" if it takes military action against Tehran's nuclear program, and dismissed veiled threats from the Jewish state as a ''childish game."

On Saturday, Israel repeated that it would not accept a nuclear Iran under any circumstances and was preparing for the possible failure of diplomatic efforts.

While Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz stopped short of an outright threat of military action, he said Israel ''must have the capability to defend itself . . . and this we are preparing."

A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Hamid Reza Asefi, said Israel was only trying to add to Western pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program.

''We consider Mofaz's comments a form of psychological warfare. Israel knows just how much of a fatal mistake it would be" to attack Iran, Asefi said. ''This is just a childish game by Israel."

Israel views Iran as its biggest threat and has joined Washington in accusing Tehran of trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for electricity generation.

The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, cautioned yesterday against a ''militarization of thinking" on how to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. ''Rather, we should see that we use and exhaust to the best of our powers the diplomatic solutions that remain available," Steinmeier said in an interview on German television.

Israel, whose warplanes destroyed an unfinished Iraqi reactor in 1981, maintains a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. While it neither acknowledges nor denies nuclear arms, Israel is thought to have about 200 nuclear warheads deployed on ballistic missiles, aircraft, and submarines, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which is based in Washington.

Asefi also warned European powers to resume talks. ''We advise [Europe] not to choose any path except dialogue. If there is a retribution to be paid, that will include Europe, too," Asefi said, adding that Iran plans to continue cooperation with the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Last week, European powers drafted a resolution calling for Iran's referral to the UN Security Council to resolve its nuclear issue. The resolution stopped short of calling for sanctions.

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