Friday, February 18, 2005

Iran Calls For Islamic Unity

The Associated Press, CBS News:
Iran warned Thursday that any strike on its nuclear facilities will draw a swift and crushing response and called for an expansion of its newly emerging strategic alliance with Syria to create a powerful united Islamic front that could confront Washington and Israel.

The warning by the country's defense minister and the call for an Islamic alliance reflected Iran's concern about growing U.S. pressure to drop all its nuclear ambitions. With Syria under similarly strong American scrutiny — in its case for its role in Lebanon and as an alleged sponsor of terrorism — the two nations were trying to diminish Washington's efforts to isolate them.

Despite tough talk, the Bush administration has stuck with diplomatic pressure against both countries. Still, fears it will attack one or the other abound, and Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani was quoted Thursday by state-run radio as saying Iranian retaliation would be harsh.

"When the Iranian nation sees our crushing response to the enemy, it should know one of our nuclear or non-nuclear facilities has been attacked," he said a day after an explosion in southwestern Iran near a nuclear facility that initially was reported as a missile strike. After varying possible explanations, Iranian authorities said it was due to construction work on a dam.

Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani's call for a powerful alliance among Islamic nations was another sign of the tense situation; it came a day after Syria and Iran declared they would form a united front in the face of any threats.

However, the idea appeared unlikely to go far, with many key Arab states — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia — close Washington allies and long suspicious of Iran's Shiite Muslim clerical regime. ...

"The Iranian-Syrian common front is not a new phenomenon. Iran and Syria have been strategic allies for the past 2 1/2 decades. What was declared Wednesday was insistence on more coordination and cooperation between the two in the face of growing U.S. hostility," said Mohammad Sadeq al-Hosseini, an Iranian expert on Arab affairs.

"The declaration may lead to closer high-level contacts so that the two can assist each other at crucial moments," he said, noting Iran was a major power in the Gulf. "Closer cooperation between Tehran and Damascus can help delay U.S. plans against the two countries." ...