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(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran stood apart Tuesday from the chorus of countries condemning North Korea for its declared nuclear test, with a government spokesman putting the blame on Washington and calling for universal nuclear disarmament.
In their first reports about North Korea's test, Iranian newspapers were sympathetic Tuesday toward the Pyongyang regime, with which Tehran has long enjoyed close but secretive relations.
"When America's expansionist policies make the world a dangerous place, it is to be expected that countries seek such weapons as a deterrence," said the hard-line Resalat in an editorial.
One moderate newspaper, the independent Etemad-e-Melli, said the nuclear explosion that North Korea announced Monday bore a lesson for the United States, which has long pushed for sanctions on Iran because of its controversial nuclear program. Iran contends its program is civilian-only and it does not intend to produce a bomb.
"The White House has to choose one of two options: mobilizing world support for dealing with North Korea and showing flexibility toward Iran, or ignoring North Korea and insisting on threatening Tehran for its nuclear activities," said Etemad-e-Melli.
"Political analysts will choose the first option," the editorial added.
In the first official response to the test, government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters that Iran opposed "any use of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons." But he did not criticize North Korea for developing a nuclear weapon.
"The root cause of this (test) should be sought in the policy, behavior and method adopted by the rulers of the United States," Elham said.
His remark took the same line as a state radio editorial on Monday that said the test was "a reaction to America's threats and humiliation."
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is a pioneer in supporting a world that is free of nclear weapons. If the big powers are serious, the best way to counter nuclear weapons is for them to start nuclear disarmament themselves," Elham said.
In an obvious reference to Iran's own difficulties with the U.N. nuclear agency, Elham added: "the International Atomic Energy Agency has to provide the ground for the peaceful use of nuclear energy by all countries."
The IAEA has called on Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium until doubts about the country's nuclear program have been cleared. But Iran has refused to do so, saying it is enriching uranium solely to provide fuel for a reactor that will generate electricity.
Enriched uranium can also be used to make nuclear bombs, which Washington believes is Iran's aim.
One Iranian columnist warned that North Korea's test was "both a chance and a threat for Iran."
"It is a chance because it will reduce the pressure on Iran," Amir Rafati told The Associated Press. "It is a threat because it may make things worse for Iran in the long run."
Rafati, who writes for the financial paper Jahan-e-Eghtesad, said that Washington and its allies might be frustrated in trying to tackle North Korea and get tough with Iran instead.
Iranian officials have long refused to comment on the nature of their government's relationship with North Korea. Western intelligence agencies have reported that Iran's Shahab-3 missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, is based on a North Korean rocket. But Iran denies this.
Iran does not criticize North Korea's nuclear test, blames Washington