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Iran's top cleric praises Ahmadinejad on atom issue

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top authority, said on Tuesday the Islamic Republic had won a victory in its nuclear programme.

File photo of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) reviewing a military parade in the city of Yazd, about 560 km south east of Tehran, January 4, 2008. (REUTERS/Iran Student News Agancy/Handout/Files)

In his first public comment on the nuclear issue since a U.N. watchdog report last week, Khamenei also praised the handling of the case by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has often alarmed the West with speeches vowing no compromise.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in the report that Iran had clarified issues raised as part of a work plan agreed in August, but not claims of alleged studies into the possible weaponisation of nuclear materials.

Western powers are pushing for a third round of sanctions against Iran for not halting work they fear is aimed at building atomic bombs, a charge Tehran denies, saying it wants skills to generate electricity so it can export more of its oil and gas.

"One example of an advance by the Islamic system has been the nuclear issue, in which the Iranian nation has honestly and seriously realised a great victory ... ," Khamenei was quoted by state radio as telling Iranian officials.

Khamenei said those opposed to Iran's nuclear programme were giving ground because of Iran's determination.

"Those people who used to say Iran's nuclear activity must be dismantled are now saying we are ready to accept your advances, on condition that it will not continue indefinitely," he said, adding that this was achieved through "perseverance".

Khamenei has the final say in all state matters, including nuclear policy, under Iran's system of clerical rule which puts his word above that of the president and other state bodies.


The supreme leader echoed Ahmadinejad who said in his reaction to the IAEA report that experience had shown that when Iran resisted the West's demands, Iran's opponents backed down.

"(Khamenei) regarded the role of the person of the president in the advance of the nuclear as outstanding," radio quoted Khamenei as saying.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded Iran halt uranium enrichment, the part of its nuclear programme that most worries the West because the process can be used to make fuel for power plants or, potentially, material for bombs. Iran has refused.

Khamenei took aim at the last parliament, which was controlled by pro-reform politicians. That camp, now out of power, has often questioned Ahmadinejad's handling of the atomic case by saying his uncompromising approach has isolated Iran.

"Unlike the efforts of some in the previous term, the seventh majlis (this parliament) acted steadfastly," he said.

Before Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, the previous administration agreed to suspend enrichment. Since that deal was scrapped, Khamenei has said Iran would not compromise.

Iran had said it considers the nuclear file closed and said it should no longer be in the hands of the U.N. Security Council, which has slapped two rounds of sanctions on Iran so far. But Tehran says it will still work with IAEA.

"Although Iran's (August) work plan ... was completed successfully, Iran is ready to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in the framework of the (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) regulations," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The IAEA has said Iran should sign up to an Additional Protocol to give the agency inspectors more access to make checks. Iran halted voluntary implementation of that measure in 2006 when its case was referred to the Security Council.

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