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Monday October 1, 03:20 PM
Iran to confront U.S. jets in airspace
By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian forces will confront any U.S. aircraft using the country's airspace during possible strikes on neighbouring Afghanistan, Iran's defence minister has said.
Though Iran, branded a sponsor of terrorism by Washington, has condemned last month's attacks on the United States it has ruled out cooperating with its arch-foe on retaliatory strikes.
Asked at a news conference on Monday what Tehran would do if American planes strayed over Iranian territory -- as they did on a number of occasions during the 1991 Gulf War -- Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani said: "We are military men, we don't joke with anyone.
"Mistakes cannot be repeated. If it is repeated, it means it is planned and we will confront them, we will defend our airspace."
Ruling out cooperation with Washington, Tehran wants a U.N.-led coalition to fight terrorism.
"Their military deployments in the region shows they are going to stay and this worries us," Shamkhani said of the U.S. forces. "Certainly Russia is also worried about this and we will discuss the matter."
Shamkhani is due to meet Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov on Tuesday and tour a number of armaments plants in Moscow and St Petersburg during a five-day visit.
BACKING FOR AFGHAN OPPOSITION
The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran after radical students seized its embassy in Tehran in 1979 following the Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.
Despite Iran's unease about U.S. military moves in its own backyard, the officially Shi'ite Islamic Republic is no friend of Afghanistan's ruling Sunni Taliban which it accuses of being primitive and giving Islam a bad name.
Shamkhani confirmed for the first time that Iran has provided arms to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and he said it would continue to do so.
"We always cooperated with them from the beginning," he said. "Our cooperation with the Northern Alliance is not related to this crisis...We used to give them arms and we will continue to do so."
Shamkhani's trip to Moscow is part of a process of rapprochement between Moscow and Tehran in which military cooperation has been high on the agenda.
Russia, which is keen to cash in on a potentially lucrative Iranian arms market, has pledged to clinch arms sales with Tehran and is also building a nuclear power plant in Iran's southern port city of Bushehr.
Both the United States and Iran's regional enemy Israel have criticised the power plant project, fearing it could eventually lead to Iran developing nuclear weapons. But Moscow and Tehran insist the plant has no military purpose.