TEHRAN - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday he was ready to don combat fatigues and give his life in battle if his country were attacked, accusing Washington of seeking any excuse to start a war.
The United States and Israel have both rattled sabers over Iran's disputed nuclear program, refusing to rule out air strikes to hinder what they see as Tehran's pursuit of atomic weapons.
Khamenei stressed he would remain in the public eye if war came, unlike U.S. officials whom he accused of fleeing for cover after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
"If this nation is tested by a bitter experience, I will wear battle fatigues and will be ready to sacrifice myself at the head of the nation," he told pilgrims in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad.
"After September 11, there was no news of U.S. President (George W. Bush) and his deputies for two or three days. They went into hiding. I am not like that," he added in the speech broadcast on state television.
Although now mainly familiar in his clerical garb, Khamenei was regularly seen in fatigues on his trips to the front in the 1980-1988 war against Iraq, during which he was president.
France, Britain and Germany have offered Iran economic incentives if it abandons work on its nuclear fuel cycle, activities that could give Iran the ability to produce highly enriched uranium fuel or plutonium for bombs.
"It is a fiction that Iran is making an atom bomb, it is not true," Khamenei said. "It is an excuse. If not this, Americans will find another excuse for conspiring against Iran, such as terrorism or human rights."
European and Iranian negotiators are scheduled to meet in Paris later this week to assess progress in talks, which remain deadlocked over Tehran's refusal to end uranium enrichment as demanded by the Europeans.
Iran contends atomic fuel is only needed for power stations such as the one it is building in the Gulf port of Bushehr.