'Ball of Fire' if Iran Attacked: IAEA Chief

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Agence France Presse

'Ball of Fire' if Iran Attacked: IAEA Chief

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DUBAI - The UN atomic watchdog chief warned on Saturday that an attack on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme would turn the region into a fireball, as Tehran rejected an Israeli strike as "impossible."0621 05 1

Mohamed ElBaradei also warned that he would not be able to continue in his role as International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general should the Islamic republic be attacked.

His stark comments came as Iran stressed yet again that it will not negotiate with world powers over its nuclear programme if it is required to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment.

"A military strike (against Iran) would in my opinion be worse than anything else ... It would transform the Middle East region into a ball of fire," ElBaradei said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television.

A report by the New York Times on Friday cited US officials as saying a major Israeli military exercise earlier this month seemed to be a practice for any potential strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

In Athens, an official with the Greek air force's central command confirmed the substance of the US media report, stating that it had taken part in "joint training exercises" with Israel off the Mediterranean island of Crete.

The manoeuvres, code-named "Glorious Spartan 08," took place on May 28 and June 12, and consisted of aerial exercises and knowledge exchange, said the Greek source, who requested anonymity.

The goal was for more than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighter jets to prepare for long-range strikes and demonstrate Israel's serious concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Times reported.

But ElBaradei said any attack would simply harden Iran's position in its row with the West over its nuclear programme.

"A military strike would spark the launch of an emergency programme to make atomic weapons, with the support of all Iranians, including those living abroad," he said.

He did not believe that there was an "imminent risk" of proliferation given the current status of Iran's nuclear programme and made it clear he would "not have a place" as IAEA head in the event of a military strike.

The West fears that Tehran could use uranium enrichment to make an atomic bomb although Tehran insists it only wants nuclear technology for peaceful energy purposes.

ElBaradei's comments come as Iran stressed on Saturday it will not negotiate with world powers over its nuclear programme if it is required to suspend its enrichment activities.

"Suspending uranium enrichment has no logic behind it and it is not acceptable and the continuation of negotiation will not be based on suspension," Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

He responded to talk of a military strike by saying "such impudence and audacity to have an aggression against our national interest and integrity is an impossible action."

For his part, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tehran would "continue uranium enrichment non-stop since this activity is under the 24 hour surveillance (of IAEA cameras).

"The request to stop uranium enrichment is an old issue and does not have any legal or technical foundation," he added.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli parliament foreign affairs and defence commission chairman Tsahi Hanegbi said Saturday that Western diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear programme had failed.

"Next year and the year after that will be crucial. The world must must decide if it gives more time to diplomatic efforts, which currently do not seem very promising," he told Israeli public radio.

"Western measures against Iran's nuclear programme have failed."

On June 6 an Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Shaul Mofaz, warned that Iran would face attack if it pursues what he said was its nuclear weapons programme.

A week ago, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana presented a new offer to Mottaki on ending the six-year standoff over Iran's nuclear drive, offering economic and trade incentives. Iran is still considering the plan.

It was made on behalf of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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