Iran will 'confront' US if planes use Iranian airspace

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The Independent Online

Iran will use force to confront the United States if US planes used Iranian airspace for attacks on neighbouring Afghanistan.

Iran's Defence Minister Ali Shamkhan said: "I warned the United States Monday that Tehran would use force. A mistake cannot be repeated. We will strongly defend our airspace and will confront (U.S.) planes if they use our airspace."

The comments appeared aimed more at underlining Iran's opposition to US plans for a war on terrorism than declaring a policy that could realistically limit US action. The US could launch attacks from Pakistan, which also neighbours Afghanistan, or from warships in the Arabian Sea without violating Iranian airspace.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said last week that Iran does not consider the United States "competent and sincere (enough) to lead any global campaign against terrorism." But Iranian officials have left open the possibility of joining a UN–led campaign to control militancy.

Mr Shamkhani also acknowledged for the first time that Iran has been supplying the Afghan opposition Northern Alliance with weapons and said Iran would continue to do so.

"The Northern Alliance has been and is our ally. We have provided weapons to the Northern Alliance and will continue to do so. There will be no change in our support of them," he told reporters.

The United States also has reached out to the Northern Alliance in its campaign against the Taliban who control most of Afghanistan and who shelter bin Laden.

During his visit to Russia, Mr Shamkhani said he would discuss bilateral military issues including signing arms deals, developments in the Caspian Sea as well as possible US military strikes against Afghanistan.

"We will sign deals to revive the military contracts that had previously been suspended. Our defense cooperation with Russia is within the framework of international conventions," he said.

The United States and Israel repeatedly have voiced concern over Russia's ties with Iran, saying they could lead to the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Russia and Iran have dismissed the allegation.

Russia agreed in March to provide Tehran with estimated $7 billion of arms over the next years. Moscow says it would only supply defensive weapons.

Shamkhani was due to visit Russia in early September, but postponed his trip because it overlapped with a Moscow visit by Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.