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Iran's president stages show of strength, bravado before U.N. trip

At a military parade, Ahmadinejad criticizes U.S. military presence in the region and tells would-be invaders to beware. One of the Ahmadinejad's harshest critics echoes his concerns.

September 23, 2009|Jeffrey Fleishman and Ramin Mostaghim

CAIRO AND TEHRAN — Hours before he left Tehran on Tuesday for the United Nations, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was his usual combative self: threatening to cut the hands off would-be invaders and calling the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan an insult to the region.

His remarks came at a military parade that featured jet fighters and missiles capable of reaching Israel and Europe. The speech veered from peace and security to the worship of God to warning "arrogant powers" that the "Iranian nation will resist all invaders."

Ahmadinejad was accompanied by Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guard, which has stood behind him during the massive protests that have followed his disputed reelection in June. Ahmadinejad is expected to address the United Nations General Assembly today, days after stating that the Holocaust was a lie and a week before an Iranian delegation is scheduled to hold talks with world powers, including the United States, about Tehran's nuclear development program.

The Obama administration is pressuring Iran to divulge the scope of its nuclear efforts, which Washington suspects are aimed at building weapons. The U.S. and Europe believe Iran has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb. Tehran says its program is designed solely for civilian energy production.

Ali Akbar Salehi, director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told reporters Tuesday that the country was improving its centrifuges to more quickly enrich uranium. The international community has known about such centrifuges and Salehi's announcement appeared to reaffirm Iran's defiance before Ahmadinejad's visit to the U.N.

"Our engineers are building new generations of centrifuges. Cascades of 10 or more centrifuges are being tested, and we hope to announce good news in the future," Salehi said. "These new centrifuges can enrich uranium more than 2.5 times faster than the existing ones, and we are going to boost the enrichment power tenfold."

In a warning directed at the United States and Israel, which has suggested that it might attack Iran's nuclear installations, Ahmadinejad said, "No power and no country can dare even to think of attacking the Iranian nation. . . . Our armed forces will cut the hand off anyone in the world before it pulls the trigger against the Iranian nation."

One of his harshest critics and a supporter of the opposition movement, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, echoed the president's concern and called for national unity.

"Monopolistic colonialists begin a preparatory attack that gives us an alert to be very cautious and get prepared," said Rafsanjani, who was quoted by Iran's Press TV speaking at an assembly of religious leaders. "We hope no undesirable situation will occur. . . . Their moves are part of a psychological warfare to make us diplomatically passive, but our active diplomacy will help us to act appropriately."

The military parade marked the anniversary of the beginning of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which claimed an estimated 1 million lives. The parade, held near a military cemetery in south Tehran, showed off troops and sophisticated hardware, including the Russian-made Tor-M1 air defense system to protect nuclear facilities and the Shahab-3 and Sejil missiles, which have a range of about 1,250 miles.

Iranian news reports initially said that a plane crashed during the ceremony. State radio and TV later said that seven people were killed when a military transport plane on a training exercise crashed in a field near a village. The incident could not be independently confirmed.

Standing amid flowers and decorated generals at the beginning of what was billed as Sacred Defense Week, Ahmadinejad said the United States and its allies were attempting to "drive a wedge" among nations in the region with their military bases.

"It is impossible the regional nations will let you have permanent bases here. These are the traits of Muslim nations in the region, they are against aliens," he said. "You have come here and jeopardized the security and peace in the region. . . . [It] is inhumane and an insult to the nations of the region."

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jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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