Iran on Friday buried a top scientist it said was killed as part of an Israeli-US covert operation against its nuclear program, as a US-led drive for crippling sanctions ran into opposition even from allies.
Meanwhile, diplomats in Vienna said the UN nuclear watchdog would send its chief inspector to Iran at the end of the month.
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a deputy director at Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant, was given a funeral service in north Tehran after noon prayers, state media reported.
He and his driver were killed on Wednesday when two men on a motorbike attached a magnetic bomb to his car.
Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the “abominable” and “cowardly” killing was committed “with the planning or support of the intelligence services of the CIA and Mossad” of the US and Israel.
He said in a statement that Tehran would “continue with determination” its nuclear activities, which Western governments suspect mask a drive for a weapons capability despite repeated denials.
Some media close to Iran’s conservatives have called for “retaliation” against Israeli officials. Tehran has demanded that the UN Security Council condemn the “terrorist” killing.
Although Washington has strongly denied any involvement with the assassination, US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta said: “We have some ideas as to who might be involved.”
The prime suspect is widely believed to be Israel, as it was in the murders of three other Iranian scientists in similar circumstances over the past two years. Israel has a policy of not commenting on intelligence matters.
In separate letters addressed to the US and British governments, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi protested at what he called their support for “terrorist” actions.
Washington has been leading a campaign to bring Iran’s economy to its knees by slapping unilateral Western sanctions on its vital oil exports.
Iran has warned that if attacked or strangled by sanctions, it could close the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf — a chokepoint for 20 percent of the world’s sea-borne oil transport.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to Saudi Arabia, warned on Friday that the “whole world” would take action if Iran closed the strait, in an interview with the al-Arabiyah news channel.
“It is in the interests of the whole world that those straits are open and, if there was any threat to close them, I am sure the whole world would come together and make sure they stayed open,” he said.
The US has warned that shutting the Strait of Hormuz would be a “red line” that Iran should not cross, and has sent two aircraft carriers to waters near the Gulf to replace one that Iran’s military had warned away as it wound down its deployment.
Departing Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin called for calm amid the saber-rattling.
“Iran is our neighbor ... If Iran is involved in any military action, it is a direct threat to our security,” he told reporters in Brussels. “Once again, you need to have some cold mineral water and calm down.”
Amid the climbing tensions, diplomats in Vienna said the International Atomic Energy Agency planned to send its chief inspector and deputy director to Iran for a week starting on Jan. 28.
A defiant Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, heading home after a tour of four Latin American allies, vowed to resist pressure on Tehran’s nuclear program.