Supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday that Iran will press on with its nuclear work.

State television quoted Khamenei as saying: ‘The Islamic Republic has made up its mind, and on the nuclear programme and other issues it will continue on its path with strength.’

Last Tuesday, Iran was due to formally respond to an offer by major powers proposing a package of ‘incentives’ in return for a freeze on uranium enrichment, a process that could be developed to make nuclear weapons.

The UN Security Council has also given Iran until August 31 to halt enrichment and reprocessing activities or face possible sanctions.

However, a defiant Khamenei declared: ‘Arrogant powers, led by the United States, are fearful of progress by Islamic countries.

‘Therefore, on the nuclear issue, even though they know Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, they are piling on the pressure to prevent our scientific progress as an Islamic country.’

Khamenei’s remarks were echoed by similar sentiments from the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi.

In his weekly briefing to reporters, Asefi stressed that Iran does not have the suspension of uranium enrichment on its agenda.

Meanwhile, the second stage of Iran’s Zarbat-e Zolfaghar military exercises began on Sunday, in the operational area, with the firing of ten ground-to-ground Sa’eqeh (Lightning) missiles, all of which hit their pre-designated targets, according to the Fars News Agency.

The ten missiles were fired from some kilometres away from the target and the exercise was under the supervision of Maj-Gen Salehi, commander of the regular armed forces, and under the guidance of the exercises’ central base.

The Iranians also report that they have built and optimised ground-to-ground and coast-to-sea missiles and Iranian Defence Industries’ specialists and domestic innovators can respond to any threat with significant ranges and high precision.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Asefi said the military exercise is just one of the country’s regular exercises to promote Iran’s military capabilities.

He added: ‘The military exercises are planned in advance. We have such exercises every year.

‘They are very useful because they enhance the country’s capabilities. As sportsmen should constantly practice, such military exercises were held from the beginning of the revolution.

‘It is not the first time that there has been such an exercise.

‘It will not be the last time either.’

Turning to the situation in Lebanon, Asefi said that the Zionist regime is the main cause of tension and crisis in the Middle East.

And on the Lebanon-Israel conflict and violation of the cease-fire by the Zionist regime, he said that it proved that Israel is not interested in easing tensions or relieving conflict and war.

He referred to the US approach to the Middle East as ‘despotic’ and is mainly to blame for the continuation of the crisis in the region.

Asefi stressed that the Lebanese resistance movement is ‘legitimate’ and said that legitimacy of the campaign against occupation is in line with international law.

He added that the Zionist regime does not respect international law and it disregards world public opinion – as was evident by its violation of the cease-fire.

In a reference to kidnapping members of the Palestinian parliament and government who are still in custody, Asefi said: ‘They proved that kidnapping is the characteristic of the Israeli occupiers.’

Israel kidnapped Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nasser Shaer from his home in Ramallah in the West Bank on August 19.

Palestinian officials denounced the Israeli action as part of an attempt to kidnap the entire leadership of the Palestinian government.

Asefi described developments in Lebanon as marking the beginning of the process of Israel’s downfall.

He said: ‘Since 1948, the Zionist regime has never faced such a crisis. This is the worst crisis since then.

‘The measures that the Israelis adopt are in the same framework. Its economic, political and social institutions are all in a vacuum in terms of decision making. The Zionist regime is facing a very bad situation.

‘I believe that the root cause of these problems is the corruption of the Zionist regime’s government and its erroneous policies.

‘This is the status of the Zionist regime.

‘America and Israel are unhappy with something else too.

‘That is to say the victory of Hezbollah was a turning point in the international relations and it is a point for the Islamic countries to rely on.

‘We think that the developments that took place in Lebanon have marked the beginning of the process of the Zionist regime’s downfall.’

Concerning Iran’s assistance in the reconstruction of Lebanon, the foreign ministry spokesman said: ‘It is quite natural for Iran to participate in the country’s reconstruction efforts within the framework of international and bilateral criteria.’

‘Primary talks on the issue have already been held, but a comprehensive plan is required,’ he added.

About dispatch of peace-keeping forces to Lebanon, he said that it should take place once agreement is reached with the Lebanese government.

Meanwhile, the (Iranian parliament) Majlis Speaker Gholamali Haddad-Adel said on Sunday that the US has stepped up its interference in the national affairs of other countries under the pretext of an international campaign against terrorism.

He said: ‘The US meddles in national affairs of other countries sometimes in the form of a coup d’etat and sometimes under the pretext of a campaign against terrorism.’

Haddad-Adel was addressing a Majlis formal session on the occasion of the anniversary of the US and British-sponsored coup d’etat in Iran on 19th August 1953 that installed the notorious Shah of Persia.

The Majlis Speaker added: ‘The US has always raised a pretext for its interference.

‘It meddled in Iraqi domestic affairs under a pretext to establish democracy and freedom in that country and the international campaign against terrorism.’

The US staged a coup d’etat in Iran in 1953 under a pretext to fight against communism, he said, adding that it was a coup d’etat against the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq who was the architect of nationalising the Iranian oil industry.

The then government of Iran had taken legal action against British colonialism with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague in a bid to nationalise Iran’s oil industry.

‘This was the apparent pretext, but, oil was their main reason.

‘They strived to prevent the Iranian nation from access to oil.

‘They said oil should be in the hands of the US and British companies.

‘The US President George W Bush has recently said the US will not hand over the fate of the oil-rich country of Iraq to “terrorists”, proving that the US pretext of lack of democracy in the Middle East region is also a lie.’

Speaker Haddad-Adel added: ‘If the US tells the truth, it should say why it backs the Israeli campaign against the popular government of Hamas and why the US kept silent on the illegal actions of the Zionist regime against the democratically elected government of the Palestinians.’

He then addressed young Iranians saying they should study their history so as not to be embarrassed by baseless allegations against Iran.

‘Fortunately, young Iranians are wise and aware’.