Iran vows to crush any threat as US steps up rhetoric
TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran vowed it was ready to crush any military strike or threat as the United States and its allies turned up the rhetoric over Tehran's nuclear ambitions and its growing clout in the region.
"The Islamic republic's armed forces are in a state of complete readiness and are monitoring everything in order to give a crushing response to even the smallest aggression or threat," Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
Najjar also urged the administration of US President George W. Bush to be "rational" with Iran, amid mounting speculation that arch-enemy Washington could be planning a strike on its nuclear installations.
"I advise Mr Bush and his advisors to be rational and think about their own nation's interest," he said.
Najjar's remarks came after Iran's outspoken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered another defiant message to the United States, saying: "They are not in a position to hurt us, they do not have the power to do so, their pressure is mostly psychological."
The United States has been at the forefront of the campaign to stop Iran's nuclear drive, saying it could be a cover for efforts to build atomic weapons, a claim vehemently denied by Tehran.
Iran has insisted it will not be diverted from its right to nuclear technology, despite a UN Security Council resolution last month which imposed sanctions over Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
Washington has also taken Tehran to task for allegedly fomenting the violence in neighbouring Iraq and playing a role in the political turmoil in Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah is spearheading a campaign to bring down the Western-backed government.
Washington's ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Wednesday that the turmoil in Iraq was helping to boost the clout of Shiite-ruled Iran in the majority Sunni Arab region.
"Historically, Iraq has played a balancing role vis-a-vis Iran. Now that Iraq is a weakened state, it is helping the rise of the relative power of Iran," Khalilzad told reporters in Baghdad.
"Iran is a rising and increasingly important issue... Iran wants to be a dominant power."
US officials have repeatedly warned that Iran is supporting renegade Iraqi Shiite militias and providing weapons technology used by anti-US forces in Iraq.
Earlier this month, US troops arrested five Iranians from a liaison office in northern Iraq, accusing them of being agents for Tehran, arming militias and inciting anti-US attacks.
The arrests triggered a row, with Tehran accusing the US forces of violating international diplomatic regulations.
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns also warned on Tuesday that Washington would not allow Iran to "control" the oil-rich Gulf and had sent two carrier battle groups to the region in recent weeks.
And Jordanian King Abdullah II, who once warned that a Shiite crescent was taking shape across the region, also weighed in to the standoff on Wednesday.
"We wish to see positive and balanced relations between Iraq and Iran, and between Arab countries and Iran," he told the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview also carried by Jordan's Petra news agency.
"We believe that Iran must refrain from seeking to rattle stability in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq and any other part of the region so that we can make progress towards building such relations," he said.
"The situation in Iraq is very dangerous and complicated. If sectarian strife in Iraq persists it will set ablaze everything in its path and spread to all the countries in the region," he said.
"We hope the efforts of all of Iraq's neighbours, including Iran, will focus on helping Iraq avoid civil war."
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