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Tue 3 Jun 2008 06:11 PM

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Khamenei vehemently rejects nuclear allegations

Iran's supreme leader says programme peaceful, nuclear bomb against Islam.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday vehemently rejected charges Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapon, amid mounting concern from the UN atomic agency about the Iranian atomic drive.

"The Iranian nation is not seeking a nuclear weapon," Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on state television to mark the anniversary of the death in 1989 of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"We are seeking nuclear energy for peaceful purposes for daily use and we will continue this path to the envy of our enemies. We will mightily achieve this aim," he added.

Khamenei has in the past frequently stated Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful and that nuclear weapons are against Islam. But the vehemence and detailed explanation of Tuesday's speech were unusual.

His comments come a day after UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei urged "full disclosure" over allegations that Tehran hid key information about weaponisation in its contested nuclear programme.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in the past months been investigating intelligence given by Western countries that Iran has studied how to make an atomic weapon, much to Tehran's fury.

The watchdog is currently holding its summer meeting of the 35-member board of governors, and the Iranian nuclear programme is a key issue.

In its latest report, the IAEA expressed "serious concern" that Iran was hiding information about alleged studies into making nuclear warheads as well as defying UN demands to suspend uranium enrichment.

But Khamenei said: "You know the Iranian nation is in principle and on religious grounds against the nuclear weapon. Nuclear weapons only incur high costs and have no use. They do not bring power to a nation."

Khamenei also expressed concern that "terrorists" could one day gain possession of a nuclear bomb and cause havoc throughout the world.

"Sooner or later, international terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weapons and bring the security of the world arrogance [the West] and all the other nations to an end," he said.

The US and its European allies fear Iran wants to use the sensitive process of uranium enrichment to make an atomic weapon. The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to suspend enrichment.

But Tehran, Opec's number two oil producer, insists its drive is entirely peaceful and solely aimed at generating electricity for a growing population whose exploitable hydrocarbon reserves will eventually run out.

Iran's nuclear programme started under US-backed shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi but was mothballed after Khomeini ousted him in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

It was then revived under Khamenei's patronage when he became supreme leader in 1989.

The US and its regional ally Israel - believed to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear weapons power - have never ruled out military action against Tehran over its nuclear drive.

Israel has also expressed particular alarm over repeated statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicting that the Jewish state is doomed to disappear.

In his speech Khamenei described Israel as a "fabricated regime imposed on the region" which was only being held up by what he said was US support and the failure of Arab governments to support the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Khamenei accused US officials of talking "like psychotics" and sniped that they "bang their heads against every wall like mad people" due to their failures in the region.

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