TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will move its uranium enrichment plants to safer sites if conditions make this necessary, the semi-official Mehr news agency on Wednesday quoted a senior Revolutionary Guards commander as saying.
Controversy over Iran's uranium enrichment program has resulted in Western powers imposing increasingly tight economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and Israel and the United States say they have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to suspend its sensitive nuclear work.
"If conditions require, we will move our uranium enrichment centers to safer places," Mehr quoted Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali as saying.
Western powers suspect Iran is trying to acquire the ability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying it is enriching uranium only for peaceful purposes such as power generation and medical use.
Israel, widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, says a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its existence.
A November report by the U.N. watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency suggested that Iran has been pursuing the science needed to make an atomic bomb at least until 2003.
Iran has enriched uranium to 20 percent purity, a level which Western states say is more than it needs for peaceful nuclear power. But 20 percent pure uranium is still not pure enough to make a bomb.
Iran says its response to any military action will be "painful."
"If the Americans and Israelis could attack our nuclear facilities and inflict a blow on it they would have surely done it," said Jalali, head of Iran's Civil Defense Organization.
A hardline lawmaker, Parviz Sarvari, on Monday said OPEC member Iran planned to carry out military maneuvers near the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf, where about 30 percent of the world's crude exports pass through.
But Iran's foreign ministry spokesman dismissed the lawmaker's remarks, saying it was Sarvari's personal view and did not represent Iran's official view.
However, Iranian officials have in the past warned about the
closure of the strategically important Strait of Hormuz as a possible retaliatory measure if the country's nuclear facilities were attacked.
Concerns over Iran's disputed nuclear work and threats to key shipping lanes drove up oil prices by more than $2 to post its biggest gain since late November on Tuesday, in sharp contrast to a fall in most other financial markets.
Brent crude slipped towards $109 on Wednesday.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Tim Pearce and Matthew Jones)