Ahmadinejad warns US against military action
MUSCAT (AFP) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned the United States on Monday that Tehran would retaliate severely to any possible attack over its controversial nuclear programme.
"They (the Americans) understand that if they should make this mistake, the retaliation of the Iranian people will be severe and they will repent," he told reporters in Abu Dhabi at the end of a landmark visit to the United Arab Emirates.
He later travelled to Oman, the second and final stop of his trip, where he was holding talks with Sultan Qaboos.
Along with Iran, Oman is co-guardian of the strategic Strait of Hormuz entrance to the oil-rich Gulf. It has consistently maintained good relations with Iran.
Ahmadinejad, speaking three days after US Vice President Dick Cheney warned that Washington would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, said the era when a state could come from "thousands of miles away" to strike another country had gone.
"They cannot strike Iran. The Iranian people are able to retaliate. They are able to protect and defend themselves well," he said in Farsi through an interpreter.
Ahmadinejad repeated Tehran's assertions that its nuclear programme, which the United States suspects is a cover for developing atomic weapons, was being pursued "within the context of the law" in keeping with its "right to acquire this energy."
He dismissed Cheney's warnings issued on Friday, saying: "The message did not contain anything new."
Ahmadinejad arrived in the UAE on Sunday hot on on the heels of Cheney, who has been touring Arab allies to rally support as Washington grapples with mounting violence in Iraq while not ruling out the use of force against Iran.
The Iranian leader said landmark talks on Iraq between US and Iranian delegates, announced by both sides on Sunday, would take place in Baghdad, but the date has not been decided.
The United States "requested to talk with Iran" in order to solve security issues in Iraq, he said. "In order to support the Iraqi people, we declared that we are ready."
US officials said the talks would take place in the next few weeks.
Ahmadinejad, whose country has a longstanding dispute with the UAE over three strategic Gulf islands, said his visit, the first by an Iranian head of state, had "turned a new page in the bilateral relationship between the two countries."
He played down the row over the islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, which were annexed by Iran's pro-Western Shah in 1971 and are claimed by Abu Dhabi.
"Some issues are talked about in the media and also by enemies... These issues are not discussed (by the two governments)," he said.
Such issues are "artificial", Ahmadinejad said, blaming "the presence of foreign powers" for the region's problems.
Ahmadinejad said his talks with President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan and other Emirati leaders covered the expansion of trade links, energy issues and shared investments.
Despite the islands dispute, the oil-rich UAE is Iran's largest trading partner, with exchanges worth about 11 billion dollars in 2006, according to the Iranian Business Council in Dubai.
At least 400,000 Iranians reside in the UAE, and Ahmadinejad addressed about 3,000 of them at a boisterous rally in Dubai on Sunday.
Ahmadinejad said he had also discussed with Emirati leaders ways of cooperating to sustain peace in the region and support the Iraqi people.
His visit, which followed a trip to Saudi Arabia in March, came amid concern among mostly Sunni-dominated Gulf Arab states about the growing influence of Shiite Iran in Iraq.
He said a joint committee the two sides have agreed to form under the chairmanship of their foreign ministers would promote cooperation in both political and economic issues.
Oil-rich Gulf Arab states want the region free of nuclear weapons, but they are concerned about the consequences of a US-Iran military showdown and favour a negotiated settlement.
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