1 October AP

Iranian Minister Gives Warning to U.S.


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Iran's Defense Minister warned the United States not to use Iranian airspace for an attack on neighboring Afghanistan, saying Monday that Tehran will react strongly if its skies are violated.

We will strongly defend our airspace and will confront (U.S.) planes if they use our airspace, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said at a news conference.

The comment underlined Iran's opposition to a U.S.-led war on terrorism and its refusal to cooperate in an American attack on Afghanistan, whose Taliban rulers shelter Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

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.

However, the United States could launch an attack on Afghanistan without violating Iranian airspace, sending forces from Pakistan, from warships in the Arabian Sea or from Central Asia.

Shamkhani also acknowledged for the first time that Iran, which strongly opposes the Taliban, has been supplying the Afghan opposition Northern Alliance with weapons.

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, and Russia has vowed to step up arms supplies to the opposition.

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