Tehran: A hardline Iranian cleric denounced the European Union as a US puppet yesterday.

The UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, will tackle Iran's case early next week after the UN nuclear watchdog sent it a report this week saying it could not verify that Iran's nuclear plans were purely peaceful.

Ahmad Khatami, leading Friday prayers in Tehran, said recourse to the council after two-and-a-half years of EU-Iran talks on the nuclear dispute proved European subservience to Washington.

"The issue showed that the EU, despite its gesture of independence, is intimidated," he said in a sermon broadcast live on state radio. "It is a puppet of US policies."

The United States, which has its own sweeping sanctions in place against Iran, has been pressing for tougher international action to isolate the Islamic Republic.

Iran says it wants nuclear technology only to generate energy for civilian use.

Khatami said US President George W. Bush was using the nuclear issue to further his goal of toppling Iran's government.

"Bush talks of regime change or change of its behaviour, which is the same. It means no Islamic regime and the rest is just excuses," he said.

"Today the problem is nuclear energy. As soon as it is over, the problem of human rights will come up and right after that will be the issue of fighting terrorism." Khatami said Iran would respond to pressure from the Security Council in the same way it had dealt with the IAEA.

"I say to the Security Council: 'Do not use threatening language while talking to a great nation like Iran," he said yesterday.