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Iran plays Iraq card to defy US

TEHRAN: Iran said yesterday it was not worried if the crisis over its disputed nuclear drive ended up at the Security Council, and brandished its influence in Iraq in the form of support from radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr.

United States and Europe are still struggling to get Russia and China on board, ahead of a UN meeting next month to discuss action against Iran.

Radical Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr - a key opponent of US forces - said on a visit to Tehran that his Mehdi Army militia would "support" any neighbouring country if they were attacked.

Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already vowed his country would not back down, even if ordered to do so by the Security Council.

The country has been brandishing its oil wealth and influence in the already troubled region in what some Western diplomats have described as a concerted effort to dissuade countries from siding with the US hard line.

Iran's top national security official Ali Larijani denied allegations that the Islamic republic had acquired advanced centrifuges on the black market for its nuclear programme.

Diplomats at the IAEA in Vienna said on Friday that Iran may have received three shipments of sophisticated P-2 centrifuges capable of enriching uranium. Iran, which already has less high-tech P-1 centrifuges, has denied having received the more advanced machines

Britain, France and Germany have called an urgent meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board for February 2, and are confident of getting a referral.

Meanwhile, French and German leaders Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel will meet today in the historic town of Versailles outside Paris, where discussions are expected to focus on the future of the EU after last year's rejection of the bloc's proposed constitution.

Israel was taking advantage of the growing international pressure on arch enemy Tehran to dangle the threat of pre-emptive action to stop Iran's nuclear programme in its tracks.

Army chief of staff Dan Halutz became the latest senior defence official to fire a warning shot by telling a security conference that Israel would not be "helpless" in the face of Tehran if it acquired nuclear weapons.



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