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US Plays Down Iranian Warnings on Oil Supplies


The Bush administration is downplaying Iranian suggestions that any attempt by the United States to punish the Islamic republic for its nuclear activities would endanger oil shipments from the Middle East.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke at a public ceremony Sunday. Although President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and parliament members were in attendance, much of the message was aimed at Washington.

The ayatollah said any "wrong move" against Iran would jeopardize energy shipments from the region. He added that those who threaten Iran's interests will face, as he put it, "the sharpness" of the nation's anger.

Speaking on the U.S. television Fox News Sunday program, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice downplayed the possibility of a cut-off of Iranian oil.

"We should not place too much emphasis on a threat of this kind," said Condoleezza Rice. "After all, Iran is also very dependent on oil revenue. I think, something like 80 percent of Iran's budget comes from oil revenue."

President Bush has not ruled out the possibility of U.S. military action against Iran should diplomacy fail to prevent the Islamic republic from developing a capacity to build nuclear weapons.

But the Bush administration says it is focusing on a diplomatic path, and, last week, held out the possibility of direct U.S. participation in talks with Iran over its nuclear program, if Iran suspends uranium enrichment.

Iranian officials have cautiously welcomed the prospect of direct dealings with the United States, but say they have no intention of suspending uranium enrichment and reject any pre-conditions for talks.

Secretary Rice says it is the international community that is demanding Iran suspend enrichment activities, not just the United States.

"We understand that it may take a little time for Iran to assess the situation," she said. "In a short time, they will be presented with the actual proposals that the EU-3 and others have been considering. I would note that the conditions that we outline are not American conditions. They are conditions of the IAEA Board of Governors, conditions of the U.N. Security Council presidential statement, and, indeed, a condition that was set by the Europeans [Britain, France and Germany] when the negotiations broke down."

Specific details of the proposal, worked out at talks in Vienna last week by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, have not been released. But the plan is believed to contain economic and technological incentives for Iran to limit its nuclear activities, as well as the threat of U.N. sanctions should Tehran refuse to cooperate.

Secretary Rice says Iran will be given time to consider the proposal, but that time will be limited.

"We will not allow Iran to drag this out," noted Condoleezza Rice. "This really has to be settled, not in a matter of months. We have made very clear, and will make very clear that the international community is not prepared to wait, while Iran continues down this path."

Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is purely peaceful - to provide energy for a growing population.