Iran asserts strength

“The enemies know that the Iranian army ranks among the most powerful armies in the world,” Ahmadinejad said in his speech marking national armed forces day.

“The powerful army of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in the service of peace and security and is no threat to anyone. But in the face of enemies, it is like a meteorite,” said Mr Ahmadinejad.

“It will cut off the hand of any aggressor and leave the enemy covered in shame,” he said at the start of the parade, held close to the mausoleum of Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Iran is under mounting international pressure over its disputed nuclear program but is refusing to comply with a UN Security Council demand to freeze sensitive uranium enrichment work by April 28.

The country insists its programme is peaceful, but enrichment can be extended from making reactor fuel to the production of warheads.

The parade was another opportunity for the country to show its military might in the face of mounting speculation that US President George W Bush is considering military action against Iran — a country he has lumped into an “axis of evil”.

On show was an array of conventional battlefield weapons — including freshly painted Soviet-era tanks, mobile rocket launchers, short-range missiles, pilotless aircraft and helicopters.

The annual military parade came as the five permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany were set to meet in Moscow to discuss the nuclear crisis.

The US has said punitive measures such as freezing Iranian assets or imposing travel restrictions on senior officials will be on the agenda of the meeting.

The Security Council is awaiting a report due by April 28 from Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Iran’s compliance with demands to freeze enrichment.

The fear over Iran’s nuclear programme articulated by the United States is shared by the other participants at Tuesday’s talks, but their approaches to eliminating that fear vary considerably.

Britain, France and Germany — the “EU-3” — appear to support steps against Iran such as possible imposition of sanctions, but would be reticent in the extreme about the prospect of military action should sanctions fail to achieve the desired result.

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