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As Talks With U.S. Near, Iran Denies Nuclear Arms Effort

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 21, 2009

TEHRAN, Sept. 20 -- On the eve of a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the United States, Iran's supreme leader charged Sunday that the United States is falsely accusing the Islamic republic of trying to develop nuclear weapons, state television reported.

The remarks come after President Obama on Thursday canceled a plan for a missile shield in Eastern Europe that was officially intended to thwart possible Iranian attacks. Earlier this month, the U.S. representative to the United Nations nuclear watchdog said that Iran had enough low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon.

"The U.S. officials who claim that the Iranian missiles are dangerous or that we are seeking to produce atomic bombs know themselves that such statements are false," said Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "We fundamentally reject nuclear weapons and prohibit the use and production of nuclear weapons." Khamenei issued a fatwa, a religious edict, against nuclear weapons five years ago.

Iran is scheduled to join world powers, including the United States, at the negotiating table on Oct. 1, but Iranian officials have said they have no intention of halting their uranium-enrichment project, a key demand under three sets of U.N. sanctions. Ahmadinejad, who like other Iranian officials insists that the country's nuclear program is for peaceful energy use, is due in New York this week to speak at a gathering of the U.N. General Assembly.

Western powers, including the United States, have proposed tougher sanctions if Iran fails to suspend its uranium enrichment. But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with CNN broadcast Sunday that Iran needs "positive motivation," not sanctions, to prompt cooperation on its nuclear program.

Medvedev confirmed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a secret visit to Moscow earlier this month and said Israeli officials had assured him that they are not planning a military strike on Iran. Medvedev said any Israeli attack on Iranian facilities would result in "humanitarian disaster, a vast number of refugees, Iran's wish to take revenge -- and not only upon Israel, to be honest, but upon other countries as well."

In his speech, Khamenei called Zionism a "fatal cancer" and lauded nationwide demonstrations against Israel that took place Friday. But he did not refer to opposition demonstrators who came out in large numbers and denounced Ahmadinejad's government.

The opposition demonstrations were the largest in two months, and they came after government attempts to portray politicians questioning the outcome of the June 12 elections as members of a foreign-backed plot to overthrow Iran's leaders. Many of Ahmadinejad's opponents are on trial and have confessed to conspiracy charges. Their supporters say the confessions were made under duress.

Khamenei dismissed those accusations. "Any confession in a court, before cameras, before millions of viewers, is religiously and in the eye of the wise people credible," Khamenei said. But he also indicated that the confessions will not be used against others who have not yet been charged, as has been feared by the opposition. "Making confessions against others is not acceptable," Khamenei said.

Khamenei confronted dissension within the top ranks of Iran's religious order Sunday, as several grand ayatollahs openly disagreed with his decision to declare Sunday the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. They said Monday should mark the end of Ramadan, an opposition Web site reported. While Khamenei has congratulated Ahmadinejad on his election victory, only some of Iran's approximately 20 grand ayatollahs have done the same.

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