Iran to persevere in nuclear effort


TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's supreme leader vowed yesterday to "resist any pressure and threat" after an international panel stuck by its decision to put the issue of his nation's nuclear program before the U.N. Security Council.

Ayatollah Ali Khameini said pressure over the nuclear issue is the latest chapter in America's 27-year history of hostility toward the Islamic republic.

In Washington, meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a congressional hearing that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, a capacity that Iran says it does not seek. She warned that Iran already is a threat to Israel and other countries in the Middle East.

"If you can take that and multiply it by several hundred, you can imagine Iran with a nuclear weapon and the threat they would then pose to that region," Rice said. "We may face no greater challenge from a single country."

Khameini's pledge to persevere in the pursuit of what Iran insists is strictly civilian nuclear energy seemed to mark a hardening of position after the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors did not back down Wednesday from its decision in February to report Iran to the Security Council for possible action.

However, Iranian officials' objections have been rhetorical and have not been accompanied by any concrete actions, such as severing cooperation with the IAEA or cutting off talks with Russia over a possible compromise.

Khameini is the supreme religious authority and spiritual guide of Iran.

In his remarks to the country's Assembly of Experts, he put the weight of his religious authority behind Iran's nuclear program, which some Western governments fear could lead to a covert effort to build atomic weapons.

He accused the United States of waging a psychological war against Iran because its model of Islamic government is gaining popularity.

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