Iran's powerful parliament speaker on Wednesday warned that the West could face a "done deal" if it provokes Iran, in a rare hint by an Iranian official that Tehran could build nuclear weapons if attacked.
Iran's leaders have long been adamant that the country's nuclear program is and will always be aimed only at generating electricity. Ali Larijani did not directly contradict that stance, but his veiled warning comes amid increased Iranian fears that the U.S. or its ally Israel could strike its nuclear facilities.
Earlier this month, Israel sent warplanes and other aircraft on a major exercise in the eastern Mediterranean that U.S. officials said was a message to Iran — a show of force as well as practice in the operations needed for a long-range strike mission.
Larijani, who was once Iran's top nuclear negotiator with the West, made the comments in a speech to parliament aired on state TV and radio.
He pointed to recent comments by Mohamed ElBaradei, the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, who said in an interview last week that a military strike on Iran could turn the Mideast into a "ball of fire" and "prompt Iran, even if it didn't produce a nuclear weapon today, to resort to an emergency plan to produce a nuclear weapon."
"Take Mr. ElBaradei's warnings seriously," Larijani said, addressing the West.
"Don't provoke Iran otherwise you will face a done deal that will block the path of your return to a compromise with Iran," Larijani told an open session of the parliament broadcast live on state radio Wednesday.
The phrase he used in Farsi, "amal-e anjam shodeh," means literally "an accomplished act" or "fait accompli."
Larijani also warned that a "short opportunity is left" for a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
The West is taking a carrot and stick approach with Iran, trying to push it to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the material for a warhead. Top Western powers have put forward a package of economic incentives for Iran to halt enrichment, while threatening an increase in sanctions.
Iran has yet to reply to the package, insisting it will never suspend enrichment but also mentioning some common ground with its own proposals for a resolution to the standoff.
The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build a nuclear bomb. Iran has always said it will never do so — and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled it out, calling nuclear weapons un-Islamic.
Larijani is a member of the powerful Supreme National Security Council and is close is close to Khamenei. He was careful not to directly state that the country could change its intentions. His vague hint now that Iran could do so appeared aimed at signalling the possible consequences of military action and pressing the West to reach a negotiated solution.
One hard-line newspaper was more overt about the possibility, though it too stopped short of directly threatening a move to build a weapon.
The daily Kayhan said in an editorial that even if Iran's nuclear facilities are destroyed in a strike, they could be rebuilt "within a short period of time, but with the difference that it (a military strike) may prompt a fundamental reconsideration in intentions."
Meanwhile, a top commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday warned that an attack on Iran would draw the U.S. into "a new tragedy."
"If you want to move towards Iran, make sure you will bring artificial legs and walking sticks because you will not have any legs to return on should you come," the television quoted Mohammad Hejazi, a top Guards figure, as saying.
Iran has spread its nuclear facilities over various parts of the large country and has built key portions underground to protect if from possible Israeli or American airstrikes.
In 1981, Israeli jets bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility in an attempt to end then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's nuclear program. Last September, Israel bombed a facility in Syria that U.S. officials have said was a nuclear reactor being constructed with North Korean assistance, a claim denied by Damascus and Pyongyang.