Iran’s Khamenei denies interest in nuclear arms

Associated Press / February 20, 2010

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TEHRAN - Standing on the deck of Iran’s new guided-missile destroyer, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denied yesterday that Tehran was seeking nuclear weapons and criticized the US military presence in the Persian Gulf.

His comments came as international concern rose over Iran’s nuclear ambitions a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency said the country may be working on a nuclear warhead, suggesting for the first time that the Islamic Republic had either resumed such work or never stopped when US intelligence agencies thought it had.

Russia, on the fence about whether to support new United Nations sanctions against Iran, said it was “very alarmed’’ over Tehran’s failure to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.

Khamenei said his country was not developing nuclear weapons because Islam prohibits weapons of mass destruction. “We don’t have any belief in the atomic bomb and don’t pursue it,’’ he said after taking a tour of the destroyer Jamaran, which was launched yesterday.

He also said that Washington was trying to scare Iran’s Arab neighbors into buying US weapons.

Yesterday, France and Germany threatened to seek fresh sanctions in light of the new IAEA report. The United States, Britain, and France support such a measure, with Russia undecided and fellow permanent Security Council member China - which depends on Iran for much of its energy needs - opposed.