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Iran Not Afraid Of U.S. Attacks

Iran has acquired a strong military capability and will deter any attacks against it, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said.

Shamkhani, speaking Monday at a technology conference, said Iran did not fear the United States, which has already toppled the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan and dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

"We can say we have developed a might that no country can attack us because they do not have accurate information about our military capabilities," said Shamkhani, whose comments were released Tuesday.

"We have produced equipment at a rapid pace with the minimum investment that has resulted in the greatest deterrent force," the ministry quoted Shamkhani as saying.

Shamkhani's defiant stance came the same day President Bush said on NBC's "Today" show that he wants to resolve a potential nuclear threat from Iran through diplomacy.

"I hope we can solve it diplomatically but I will never take any option off the table," the president said without elaborating.

Also Monday, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker magazine that the Bush administration had been "conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer" for the purpose of gathering intelligence and targeting information.

Hersh reports the goal is to locate three dozen or more targets that could be destroyed in quick strikes and commando raids. He quotes a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon as saying, "The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible."

American operatives have worked with Pakistan to plant nuclear detection devices in Iran, and are sharing information with Israel, Hersh quotes a former intelligence official as saying.

White House officials rejected the report in Monday editions of the magazine, saying it is inaccurate.

Shamkhani did not say what sort of military hardware Iran has produced. In November, he announced that Iran was able to mass-produce its Shahab-3 missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Iran last successfully tested the medium-range missile in 2002 before equipping its elite Revolutionary Guards with it in July 2003. Shamkhani has repeatedly said Iran is constantly improving the range and accuracy of its missiles in response to efforts by Israel to upgrade its missile systems.

Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani said in October that the missiles now have a range of more than 1,200 miles.

The toppling of Saddam and the Taliban have worried many Iranians about the possibility that Iran would be next on America's list. Bush has accused Iran of being part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and prewar Iraq.

The United States has accused Iran of seeking a covert nuclear weapons program. Iran has denied the charge, saying its nuclear program is geared only toward generating electricity, not producing a bomb.

Hersh, who broke the story about the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture scandal in Iraq, wrote that he had repeatedly been told by intelligence and military officials, on condition of anonymity, that "the next strategic target was Iran."

European Union officials said Tuesday they would oppose a military strike against Iran. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the EU presidency, said they hoped to persuade Bush during a summit later this month that the only solution a standoff over Iran's nuclear program was through diplomacy.

By Ali Akbar Dareini

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