Iran's supreme leader warned today that any U.S. attack on his country would trigger Iranian retaliation against U.S. interests "around the world."
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued the threat as Iran's Revolutionary Guards carried out military exercises in the Persian Gulf that included the test-firing of anti-ship missiles with a range of more than 200 miles.
The missiles "can hit different kinds of big warships in all of the Persian Gulf, all of the Sea of Oman and the north of the Indian Ocean," senior Revolutionary Guards naval commander Ali Fadavi told Iran's state-run television. The missile tests were staged on the second day of exercises by Iranian naval and air force units in the Gulf as a second U.S. aircraft carrier headed toward the waterway.
Fadavi said the missiles can carry warheads of about 1,100 pounds and have a maximum range of 220 miles. He did not identify the missiles or elaborate on the results of the tests.
President Bush last month ordered an aircraft carrier strike group headed by the USS John C. Stennis to sail for the Gulf to join the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a carrier that deployed in the Gulf in December. The dispatch of the second carrier group has been portrayed in part as a show of force to Iran, which the United States accuses of meddling in Iraq and of pursuing nuclear weapons.
Addressing a gathering of Iranian air force officers, Khamenei, who holds the title of "supreme leader" in Iran's Shiite Muslim theocracy, said, "The enemies know well that any aggression will lead to a reaction from all sides in the Iranian nation on the aggressors and their interests around the world." In remarks broadcast on Iranian state television, he said of the prospect of an attack, "We believe that no one will make such an unwise and wrong move that would endanger their country and interests."
Khamenei continued, "Some say that the U.S. president is not the type who acts based on calculations or thinks about the consequences of his action. But even these people can be brought to their senses." He said U.S. policymakers know that Iran "would not let an invasion go without a response."
Another top Iranian cleric, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, made similar remarks today in the Shiite holy city of Qom, warning that any military attack on Iran "would be very costly for the United States," the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported. He said it was unlikely that Washington would "take such a stupid action," IRNA reported. Rafsanjani, who currently chairs a powerful consultative group called the Expediency Council, charged that the United States "wishes to see a dependent Iran and avoids considering Iran as a regional or global power," IRNA reported.
In Washington, the White House dismissed the threats, saying that the United States has no intention of launching a war against Iran.
"Khamenei from time to time makes these unprovoked statements, and we would certainly hope they are not directed at the United States because President Bush has made it clear we have no intention of going to war with Iran," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, Reuters news agency reported.
He also played down the missile tests, saying that the Iranians "run various exercises from time to time in the Persian Gulf" and that "we monitor those exercises."
White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that the administration does not see the tests "as a direct assault on our ships."
In response to Khamenei's warning, Snow said, "I've said it, the secretary of defense has said it, the president has said it: We're not invading Iran." He said Khamenei is "spinning a hypothetical about something that is not contemplated."
President Bush said last week that he has no intention of sending U.S. forces into Iran, but he vowed to "respond firmly" if Iran steps up a campaign that the United States charges is aimed at killing U.S. troops and derailing democracy in Iraq. Bush said he would do "whatever it takes" to protect U.S. troops in Iraq from what the White House says have been attacks with weapons supplied by Iran.
Washington is also locked in a dispute with Iran over the country's nuclear program, notably its efforts to enrich uranium in defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution. The United States regards the program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies any such aim, insisting that it is building nuclear power plants only to generate electricity and that it wants to control its own nuclear fuel cycle.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said yesterday that he plans to discuss the nuclear issue with Western counterparts on the sidelines of a Feb. 9-11 security conference being held in Munich. The talks would be the first since the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in December, prohibiting the transfer of nuclear material and know-how to Iran. The council also gave Iran until Feb. 21 to suspend its enrichment program, but Tehran has shown no sign of acceding to that demand.
The State Department said U.S. officials have no plans to meet with Larijani in Munich and that Iran must stop its uranium enrichment program as a prerequisite for any direct talks.
Larijani and other Iranian officials have accused the United States of involvement in the kidnapping Sunday of an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad. The diplomat, identified as Jalal Sharafi, a second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, was seized by a group of about 30 armed men, IRNA reported.
U.S. officials deny any role in the abduction, which may have been part of Iraq's growing sectarian violence pitting minority Sunni Muslim Arabs against Iraq's majority Shiites. Sunnis have charged that Iraqi Shiite leaders are beholden to Iran. In the 1980s, Iraq, then ruled by Saddam Hussein, fought a brutal eight-year war with Iran. The war ended in stalemate after Iranian forces managed to repel an Iraqi invasion aimed at gaining control of Iran's southwestern oil fields.