TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — As pressure mounts over Iran’s nuclear program, a top Iranian general warned Tuesday that the nation will pre-emptively strike anyone who threatens it.
The statement by Gen. Mohammed Hejazi continues the defiant tone Tehran has taken in its confrontation with Western countries that claim it is developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
“We do not wait for enemies to take action against us,” said Hejazi, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency. “We will use all our means to protect our national interests.”
Hejazi heads the military’s logistical wing.
The U.S. and Israel have not ruled out strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Iran also said Tuesday that a visiting U.N. team did not plan to inspect the country’s nuclear facilities and will only hold talks with officials in Tehran.
The statement cast doubt on how well U.N. inspectors can gauge whether Iran is moving ahead with its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency team, which started Monday, is the second in less than a month.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the visiting IAEA team was made up of experts, not inspectors. He told reporters that the IAEA team was holding discussions Tuesday in Tehran to prepare for future cooperation between Iran and the U.N. watchdog. He said this cooperation is at its “best” level.
“The (title) of the members of the visiting delegation is not ‘inspectors.’ This is an expert delegation. The purpose of visit is not inspection,” said Mehmanparast. “The aim is to negotiate about cooperation between Iran and the agency and to set a framework for a continuation of the talks.”
Visits to Iranian nuclear sites were not part of the IAEA visit three weeks ago.
But on Monday, Iranian state radio said the U.N. team had asked to visit the Parchin military complex outside Tehran — a known, conventional arms facility that has been suspected of making secret weapons — and to meet Iranian nuclear scientists involved in the country’s controversial program.
“Iran’s cooperation with the (IAEA) agency continues and is at its best level,” added Mehmanparast.
The visit comes as Iran carries out air defense war games to practice protecting nuclear and other sensitive sites.
The official news agency IRNA said Monday the four-day air defense war games — dubbed “Sarallah,” or “God’s Revenge” — were taking place in the south of the country and involve anti-aircraft batteries, radar and warplanes. The drill will be held over 73,000 square miles (190,000 square kilometers) near the port of Bushehr, the site of Iran’s lone nuclear power plant.
Iran has held multiple air, land and sea maneuvers in recent months as the tensions increased.
The military maneuvers are viewed as a message to the West that Iran is prepared to defend itself against hostile measures and to retaliate — including warnings that it could cut the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway off its southern coast with its naval forces.
Tehran is also under heavy economic pressure. Last month, the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran’s fuel exports and froze its central bank assets. An oil embargo is set to begin in July.
Iranian officials said the country should respond by cutting off EU states early, before they can line up alternative buyers. Over the weekend, Tehran announced that it was pre-emptively cutting off exports to France and Britain.