TEHRAN, Iran – A top Revolutionary Guards commander said Tuesday that Israel would be Iran's first retaliatory target in response to any U.S. attack, a provocative threat that reinforced the Iranian president's past call for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
"We have announced that wherever (in Iran) America does make any mischief, the first place we target will be Israel," the Iranian Student News Agency quoted Gen. Mohammad Ebrahim Dehghani as saying.
Dehghani, a top commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, also said Israel was not prepared to go to war against Iran.
"We will definitely resist...U.S. B-52 (bombers)," Dehghani was quoted as saying.
U.S. President George W. Bush has said a military option remained on the table if Iran did not agree to international demands for it to stop enriching uranium and open its nuclear program to inspections.
Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres called on Iran to scrap its nuclear program and warned: "Remember that Israel is exceptionally strong and knows how to defend itself."
The American leader has said, however, that Washington wanted to solve the dispute through diplomacy.
Dehghani, who served as a spokesman during large-scale Revolutionary Guards war games last month, said the exercises were held ahead of schedule to send a message to the U.S. and its allies against any plans for a military strike.
"We were due to organize the maneuvers in May but due to timing conditions and issues related to (our) nuclear energy and upon the recommendation of Mr. (Ali) Larijani (Iran's top nuclear negotiator), it was held 40 days sooner than planned," he said.
Friday marked the deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program. Council members are now considering next steps, which could include punishing sanctions, although Russia and China are on record as opposing that option.
The semiofficial student news agency gave no further details on Dehghani's remarks or where he made them.
Earlier Tuesday, Mohammad Ghannadi, deputy chief for nuclear research and technology, said Iran had found uranium ore at three newly discovered sites in the center of the country.
"We have got good news: the discovery of new economically viable deposits of uranium in central Iran," Ghannadi said.
"One is in the Khoshoomi region of central Iran. Studies have already been made and samples have already been taken there. The other two are in Charchooleh and Narigan in central Iran," he added.
Ghannadi also said Iran intended to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges in underground cascade halls at Natanz, in central Iran, by late this year and would later expand the program to 54,000 centrifuges.
"We are making good progress," he said.
Iran already has considerable uranium resources available for its nuclear program, a fact that called into question the importance of the newly announced discoveries -- beyond their propaganda value.
Iran's principal source of uranium is the Saghand mine in the center of the country, which has the capacity to produce 132,000 tons of uranium ore per year and is said to be the biggest in the Middle East.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran's announcement showed "they are feeling increasingly uncomfortable" with their programs being reviewed by the U.N. Security Council.
As a result, he said, "they are throwing up all sorts of chaff in the air right now to divert attention, to try to make threatening statements to the international community."
Ghannadi also said Iran's uranium enrichment program was continuing and confirmed reports that a few of centrifuges at the enrichment facility in Natanz failed last month and were replaced.
"It's not a problem," Ghannadi told a conference in this holy city south of Tehran.
Both Ghannadi and Dehghani's declarations appeared intended to reinforce Tehran's defiance of U.N. demands for it to freeze enrichment and fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is trying to learn the extent of the country's nuclear ambitions.
The U.S., Britain and France have said they fear Iran is using its nuclear power program as a cover for building nuclear weapons. Tehran says it only is developing technology for electricy generation.
Representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China discussed the outlines of a Security Council resolution on Iran's nuclear program in Paris on Tuesday.
"I think what we will see unfold is that European governments will put forward following today's (Tuesday's) discussion some form of Chapter 7 resolution, and we'll discuss the form of it," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Paris before the talks began.
A resolution under the U.N. Charter's Chapter 7 makes any demands mandatory and allows for the use of sanctions and possibly force.