Iran Refutes Cheney's Comment, Says U.S. Can't Take Military Action Against It

Iran's foreign minister said Saturday the United States was in no position for another war, and maintained that negotiations — not threats — were the only way to resolve the standoff over its nuclear activities.

Manouchehr Mottaki was responding to Vice President Dick Cheney, who renewed Washington's warning to Iran earlier Saturday that "all options" were on the table if Tehran continues to defy U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment.

Cheney, speaking at a joint news conference with Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, said that the U.S. was working with it allies to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear weapons programs, and that it was Washington's preference for that to happen peacefully.

"But all options are still on the table," Cheney told reporters.

However, Mottaki said the U.S. could not afford to settle its differences with Iran by launching a third war after Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We do not see America in a position to impose another crisis on its tax payers inside America by starting another war in the region," Mottaki told reporters.

The United States and several of its Western allies fear that Iran is using its nuclear program to produce an atomic weapon — charges Iran denies, saying its aim is to generate electricity.

The next step toward getting Iran to abandon its nuclear programs was still being debated, Cheney said, but he warned of Iran's alleged work.

"It would be a serious mistake if a nation such as Iran became a nuclear power," Cheney said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Thursday that Iran had ignored a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze its uranium enrichment program and had expanded the program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges.

Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building an atomic bomb.

The IAEA report came after Wednesday's deadline of a 60-day grace period for Iran to halt uranium enrichment. Iran has repeatedly refused to halt enrichment as a precondition to negotiations about its program.

Mottaki urged the U.S. and its allies to return to dialogue when they are scheduled to meet in London next week.

"The only way to reach a solution for disputes is negotiations and talks. Therefore, we want the London meeting to make a brave decision and resume talks with Iran," Mottaki said.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, on Saturday also urged the Bush administration to negotiate directly with Iran.

"Saber-rattling is not a good way to get the Iranians to cooperate," Richardson wrote in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post. "But it is a good way to start a new war."

Iran, Richardson wrote, "will not end their nuclear program because we threaten them and call them names."

Separately, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said it killed 17 mercenary fighters on its border with Turkey and accused the United States and its allies of seeking to provoke tensions along the country's frontiers.

In a statement, the Guards said 17 "counterrevolutionary mercenaries" were killed, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Saturday.

Later Saturday, Iranian state television reported that a Guards' helicopter crashed in the area because of bad weather. It did not say whether anyone had died.

The Guards chief, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, said the U.S., Britain and Israel were seeking to incite tension on Iran's borders to undermine its government, IRNA reported.

"Iran's enemies, through hiring some mercenaries and with their wishful thinking, want to create instability but ... the armed forces will strongly suppress anti-revolutionaries and rebels who are dependent to foreigners," Safavi was quoted as saying.