Iran tests missiles as fear of attack grows

By Gareth Smyth in Tehran

Financial Times

Published: January 23 2007

Mohsen Rezaei, an influential conservative politician and former Revolutionary Guards commander, told state television at the weekend that Washington had opted for “serious confrontation” with Iran, in which it “intends to resolve its problem in the Middle East”.

That was a rare glimpse for the Iranian public of the seriousness with which leading officials view the situation, especially in his acknowledgment that America or Israel might attack Iran’s atomic sites.

The US announced this month it was moving a second aircraft carrier into the Gulf and deploying Patriot missiles capable of shooting down shorter-range missiles.

Questioned on Sunday by reporters over the possibility of military clashes, a confident Mr Ahmadi-Nejad replied: “What war?” But he faces criticism over both foreign policy and the budget for the Iranian year 2007-8, which he presented to parliament on Sunday.

Deputies from parliament’s economic committees quoted in Monday’s newspapers were generally sceptical of the accuracy of the budget figures given by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad. One economist told the Financial Times the budget was “structured in such a way as to hide what looks like a growing deficit”.

Kazem Jalali, a deputy, was more poetic. “I hope the president’s dreams come true one day,” he told Ayandeh-No newspaper.

Criticism has also come from one of the most senior Shia clerics. Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri made a thinly veiled attack on the president on Saturday for his “radical and provocative slogans”, and argued that Iran’s rights could be defended without giving “pretexts” to the US.

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, 85, is a reformist dissident based in the holy city of Qom, where Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s allies won only three of nine seats in last month’s local elections.

■Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, said on Monday that the country was barring some inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations body monitoring its nuclear facilities.

But Mr Mottaki added confusion when he said Iran would make a statement next week on “the nationalities Iran opposes”, apparently contradicting a statement from Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of parliament’s foreign affairs and national security commission, who said Iran was refusing entry to 38 inspectors but that nationality was “not the main basis”.

Melissa Fleming, of the IAEA, said “details of inspector designation” were confidential and the agency was discussing Iran’s “request for withdrawing the designation of certain . . . inspectors”.