, TEHRAN, Jan 13 – Iran’s supreme leader has accused the US and Israeli intelligence services of being behind the “abominable” assassination in Tehran this week of a nuclear scientist who was to be buried Friday.
The “cowardly murder” on Wednesday of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a deputy director of Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant, was committed “with the planning or support of the intelligence services of the CIA and Mossad,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In a message of condolence posted on his website, Khamenei said Iran’s nuclear programme “does not depend on any one person” and “we are going to continue with determination and energy on this path.”
His condemnation of the United States and Israel came amid calls in Iran’s conservative press for “retaliation” against Israeli political and military officials — but also a renewed offer for nuclear talks with world powers that collapsed a year ago to resume.
Ali Larijani, the influential speaker of Iran’s parliament, said Thursday during a visit to Turkey that his country stood ready for the negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany.
“The negotiations can yield results if they are serious and not a game,” he said, according to the official news agency IRNA.
Iran has several times said it is willing to resume those talks, which collapsed a year ago.
But the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the world powers, has said it is still waiting for Tehran to formally respond to a letter she sent in October offering to return to the talks.
Iran is being hit by UN and Western sanctions over its nuclear programme, as well as what appears to be a covert campaign of sabotage and assassinations, with at least three of its nuclear scientists killed in the past two years.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gannady Gatilov said on Friday that new sanctions against Iran will be perceived by the world community as an attempt at changing the regime.
“Additional sanctions against Iran, as well as potentially any military strikes against it, will unquestionably be perceived by the international community as an attempt at changing the regime in Iran,” Gatilov was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Russia has backed four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions against its regional ally while calling for the utmost restraint in the West’s escalating tensions with Iran over its nuclear programme.
Gatilov said that new sanctions would only undermine the world community’s efforts at peacefully resolving the conflict.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes.
But most Western countries believe it masks a drive to develop nuclear weapons — a suspicion strengthened though not confirmed by a November report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Western sanctions have been ramped up since that IAEA report came out.
The European Union is poised, in a January 23 meeting, to follow the United States in imposing extra measures designed to curb Iran’s vital oil exports.
A senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity Thursday said a new law signed by US President Barack Obama on December 31 aimed to “close down” Iran’s central bank, the main clearing point for petroleum payments.
Obama has said “all options are on the table” in dealing with Iran — including military action — though his administration has said it is currently pursuing economic, political and diplomatic means to resolve the impasse.
Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone Thursday to discuss the stand-off.
The United States has strongly denied having anything to do with the Iranian scientist’s murder, but Pentagon chief Leon Panetta said Thursday that US officials had “some ideas” about who was behind the assassination.
Israel has largely kept silent about the attack, though a military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, said on his official Facebook page that “I am definitely not shedding a tear” over Ahmadi Roshan’s killing.
Israeli media also highlighted comments just before the attack by the Israeli chief of staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, who said 2012 would see “things which happen to them (the Iranians) in an unnatural way.”
Iran’s government has written a letter demanding UN Security Council condemnation of the assassination, which it said was backed by unnamed “foreign quarters”.
Ahmadi Roshan, 32, and his bodyguard/driver were killed after a man on the back of a motorbike sped up to their car, stuck in rush-hour traffic, and slapped a magnetic bomb onto it that directed a deadly blast inside the vehicle. A third occupant in the Peugeot 405 was wounded.
The attack was similar to four others in Tehran over the past two years targeting Iranian scientists, three of which succeeded. In the fourth, the scientist — who now heads Iran’s atomic energy organisation — escaped.
Ahmadi Roshan was to be buried on Friday, after traditional weekly Muslim prayers.
US-Iran tensions are already fraught following an Iranian court’s death sentence this week on a US-Iranian former Marine it found guilty of spying for the CIA, and Iran’s capture last month of what it said was a CIA drone.
The Guards have announced new naval manoeuvres in the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf within the next few weeks, underlining Iran’s threat to close the narrow channel — a chokepoint for a fifth of the world’s oil — in the event of an attack or heavy sanctions.
The United States has used a secret channel to warn Iran’s leaders against closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz, saying that doing so would provoke a US response, the New York Times reported.
The New York Times, citing unnamed US officials, said late Thursday the White House has communicated to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that closing the strait would be a “red line” and provoke a response.