Iran leader slams Obama's threat
Tehran - Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slammed US President Barack Obama on Sunday for threatening a "nuclear attack" even as Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he did not believe Iran had an atomic bomb.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast said Iran will officially complain to the UN regarding Obama's "threats" after 225 members of parliament asked the government to take up the issue.
Khamenei, the commander-in-chief of Iran's armed forces and final decision maker on key policy issues, warned a meeting of the military's top brass on Sunday to be more "alert" about such threats.
"He (Obama) has implicitly threatened Iranians with nuclear weapons," state television quoted Khamenei as saying.
"These comments are very strange and the world should not ignore them because in the 21st century... the head of a state is threatening a nuclear attack," said Iran's spiritual guide.
"The US president's statements are disgraceful. Such comments harm the US and they mean that the US government is wicked and unreliable."
In a policy shift, Washington said on Tuesday it would only use atomic weapons in "extreme circumstances" and would not attack non-nuclear states - but singled out "outliers" Iran and North Korea as exceptions.
After a year of attempting diplomatic initiatives, Obama has in recent weeks ratcheted up pressure for fresh UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, which Washington suspects is masking a weapons drive.
Khamenei dismissed Washington's policy as passing "tornados".
"After 30 years, the Iranian nation has shown that it is more resilient and strong and has the ability to stand against any kind of threat," the cleric said.
"Our armed forces must also be alert towards such threats and take their training seriously."
The official IRNA news agency said 225 MPs had urged the foreign ministry to complain to the UN over what they said was the "American government's threat to international peace".
Iranian atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday that Tehran would in the coming months begin the mass production of centrifuges capable of enriching uranium three times faster than existing systems.
On Friday Iran unveiled a third generation centrifuge it said can enrich uranium six times faster than the IR-1 system currently installed at its plant in the central city of Natanz.
The Natanz facility has a capacity of 60 000 centrifuges, and Iran has been steadily enriching uranium there for years in defiance of three sets of UN sanctions and threat of a fourth.
Uranium enrichment lies at the heart of Western concerns over Iran's nuclear programme as the sensitive process can produce fuel for a reactor or, in highly extended form, the fissile core of an atomic bomb.
The US defence secretary said on Sunday that Washington did not believe that Tehran yet had a nuclear weapons capability.
"It's going slower... than they anticipated. But they are moving in that direction," Gates told NBC's Meet the Press.
"I'd just say, and it's our judgment here, they are not nuclear capable," Gates added. "Not yet."
The Pentagon chief denied that the US administration was resigned to Iran becoming a nuclear-armed power.
"We have not... drawn that conclusion at all. And in fact, we're doing everything we can to try and keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who appeared along with Gates on television political talk shows, argued that Washington's "patience" had helped build international support for sanctions against Iran.
Clinton told NBC that "what we have found over the last months, because of our strategic patience, and our willingness to keep on this issue, is that countries are finally saying, 'You know, I kind of get it... they're the ones who shut the door, and now we have to do something.'"
On Thursday, Washington secured Beijing's agreement to further talks among the major powers on new UN sanctions against Tehran.
A key trade partner of Iran, China had previously been the leading obstacle to adoption of a fresh package by the Security Council among its five veto-wielding permanent members.