TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad branded Israeli leaders “a group of terrorists” Friday, after Israel’s prime minister warned Tehran would have “a price to pay” if it does not roll back its nuclear program.
The exchange was among the harshest from either leader and reflected tension ahead of the planned circulation next week of a U.N. draft resolution on Iran’s nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad called the U.N. Security Council and all its decisions “illegitimate” and said the world body was being used as a tool of Iran’s enemies – the United States and Britain.
Across Iran, millions took to the streets on “Al-Quds Day,” – Arabic for Jerusalem – a national holiday established by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to assert Muslim claims on the holy city. Rallies took place in Cairo, Beirut, Baghdad and elsewhere across the Islamic world.
Ahmadinejad, speaking to a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Tehran, threatened any country that supports Israel, and said the U.S. and its allies had “imposed a group of terrorists” on the region by their support of the Jewish state.
His comments came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that Iran would have “a price to pay” if it does not give up its nuclear ambitions – and hinted Israel might be forced to take action.
He did not specifically threaten to cripple Iran’s nuclear program with a military strike, as Israel did 25 years ago in Iraq when it sent combat planes to destroy an unfinished nuclear reactor. But Olmert, en route home from a three-day trip to Moscow, said Thursday the Iranians should “be afraid” of the consequences of their defiance.
“They have to understand that if they object to every compromise, there will be a price to pay,” he said.
On Friday, Israel’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said Israel cannot ignore the threat of a nuclear Iran. “This combination of nuclear weapons and an extreme regime which has the clear goal of destroying Israel is a combination to which we cannot remain indifferent,” Halutz said.
Diplomats have said they will seek limited sanctions against Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment – a key process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead.
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