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Iran rejects reports of military plan by US

TEHRAN -- Iran shrugged off reports that the United States is drawing backup plans for military action, saying yesterday they were an attempt to scare it into halting its nuclear program and warning any attack would bring a ''suitable response."

A top European Union official, meanwhile, rejected any use of force against Iran in the confrontation over its nuclear program.

But Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, recommended the 25-nation bloc consider sanctions against Tehran -- raising the possibility of international punishment even if the US and Europe cannot persuade the United Nations to impose such measures.

The statements came as the chief of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, was due to visit Iran this week for talks on the standoff. Officials with his International Atomic Energy Agency have said he is hoping to win at least partial concessions from Iran. IAEA inspectors are currently in Iran visiting two key facilities.

Several American media reports over the weekend said the Bush administration is studying options for military strikes against Iran to stop its nuclear program. The New Yorker magazine raised the possibility of using atomic bombs against Iran's underground nuclear sites.

President Bush said yesterday the reports were ''wild speculation." He said his vow to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons ''doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case it means diplomacy."

But the White House was not ruling out a military response and said ''normal defense and intelligence planning" was underway.

Tehran insists its nuclear program aims to develop energy, denying US and Western accusations that it intends to build weapons. Iran has rejected a UN Security Council demand that it end uranium enrichment, a key process that can develop either fuel for a reactor or the material needed for a warhead.

In a speech yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised to announce ''good nuclear news" in the next five days.

He did not elaborate, but he could be hinting that Iranian scientists have achieved progress in testing the centrifuges used in uranium enrichment, a complex process that Iran has been researching but so far has not said it has perfected.

Iran repeatedly has said it does not believe the United States will attempt military action even as it vows the threat of UN sanctions will not force it to give up enrichment completely. But with tensions rising, it held military maneuvers in the Gulf last week, displaying a series of what it called high-tech missiles and torpedoes it said could fend off any American attack.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi dismissed the reports of US military planning as ''as psychological warfare, resulting from the Americans' anger and despair."

Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's supreme National Security Council, also played down the reports.

''If the US commits such a mistake, it would receive a suitable response," Larijani was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

Ahmadinejad said Iran would not be dissuaded from its nuclear goals.

''Our enemies know that they can't cause a minute's pause in our nation's motion forward," he said.

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