U.N. atom chief warns of "fireball" if Iran attacked

DUBAI Fri Jun 20, 2008 11:13pm BST

1 of 2. Dancers perform during an event to mark Iran's National Day of Nuclear Technology in Tehran, April 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi

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DUBAI (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said a military strike on Iran would turn the Middle East into a fireball and prompt Tehran to launch a crash course to build nuclear weapons.

Russia also warned against military threats on Friday, after The New York Times quoted U.S. officials as saying Israel had carried out a large military exercise, apparently a rehearsal for a potential bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities.

"A military strike, in my opinion, would be worse than anything," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Mohamad ElBaradei told Al Arabiya television in an interview aired on Friday.

"It would turn the region into a fireball."

He said any attack would only make the Islamic Republic more determined in its confrontation with the West over its nuclear programme.

"If you do a military strike, it will mean that Iran, if it is not already making nuclear weapons, will launch a crash course to build nuclear weapons with the blessing of all Iranians, even those in the West."

"If a military strike is carried out against Iran at this time ... it would make me unable to continue my work," he added.

Russia's U.N. envoy said threatening Iran with military action could undermine newfound momentum in the drive by six world powers to resolve the standoff with Tehran.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana went to Tehran last week for talks on the matter.

Diplomats say that on behalf of major powers, he offered Iran preliminary talks on its nuclear work and a freeze on moves to harsher sanctions if it limited its uranium enrichment to current levels for six weeks.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear bombs. It has not ruled out an attack on the Islamic Republic, but says it is focusing on diplomatic pressure.

Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful but has refused to suspend uranium enrichment despite three rounds of U.N. sanctions imposed since 2006. It has also turned down offers of economic benefits to suspend its uranium enrichment, which it says is to produce fuel for electricity generation.

A U.S. official said this stance could lead to a new round of sanctions against Iran.

ElBaradei said sanctions alone would not be effective in persuading Iran to halt nuclear enrichment, saying that more international dialogue was required.

(Additional reporting by Firouz Sedarat, edited by Richard Meares)

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