Iran warns it may take preemptive action

LONDON - As tension grew in its nuclear dispute with the West, Iran appeared yesterday to have struck an increasingly bellicose tone, warning that it would take preemptive action against perceived foes if it felt its national interests were threatened.

The warning by the deputy head of its armed forces, quoted by a news agency, came as Tehran also appeared to place limits on a visit by a team of UN nuclear officials, saying the investigators would not go to nuclear facilities, despite earlier reports that they had sought permission to inspect a military complex outside Tehran.

Growing tensions over Iran’s disputed nuclear program have provoked speculation that Israel may be contemplating a military strike against nuclear facilities, which Tehran says are for peaceful purposes but which the West suspects are inching toward the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Without mentioning Israel directly, Mohammed Hejazi, the deputy armed forces head, said yesterday: “Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,’’ Reuters reported. Divisions in Iran’s leadership make it difficult to interpret the government’s intentions, but the statement showed a new level of aggressiveness in Iran’s rhetoric.

The statement came a day after a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Tehran for the second time in three weeks.

The IAEA today acknowledged its renewed failure in trying to probe suspicions that Tehran has worked secretly on atomic arms, Associated Press reported.

The fact that the agency’s communique was issued early today, just after its experts left Tehran, reflected the urgency the agency attached to telling its side of the story.

Iranian officials sought to cast the visit in a positive light, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman telling reporters that “cooperation with the agency continues and is at its best level.’’

Differing with that view, the language of the IAEA communique clearly - if indirectly - blamed Tehran for the lack of progress. “We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached,’’ it quoted IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as saying.