22 September Reuters

Iran Calls for Peace, Shows Arms on War Anniversary


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Iran, which sealed its border with Afghanistan after attacks on the United States, marked the 21st anniversary of the start of its 1980-88 war with Iraq on Saturday with a show of military strength and a call for peace.

Iran has called on its old foe the United States to exercise restraint in response to the suicide attacks in New York and Washington, fearing a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan if retaliatory strikes go ahead.

``The Iranian nation has always called for peace and stability, a peace based on justice,'' President Mohammad Khatami told the assembled troops at the anniversary ceremony.

Iran's reaction to the crisis has been welcomed in the West. Britain has brought forward a visit to Iran by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw after what Prime Minister Tony Blair called his ``remarkable conversation'' with Khatami.

It will be the first trip to Tehran by a British foreign secretary since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Khatami, a moderate cleric campaigning for a freer Iran with better ties to the outside world, is seen by the West as someone with whom they may be able to do business.

``Our strategy is for scientific, spiritual and technical development for deterrence,'' he said.


Analysts say Iran was most likely to maintain a vigilant neutrality in any Afghan conflict between a U.S.-led alliance and the ruling Sunni Taliban militia whose purist version of Islam is regarded as primitive and extremist by Shi'ite Iran .

Iran said on Thursday it would never allow U.S. planes to use its airspace to attack Afghanistan.

Khatami took the salute from thousands of ground, navy and air force troops and Revolutionary Guards who snapped into a goose-step as they marched past the review stand.

Flowers covered the review podium, and portraits at the parade ground in southern Tehran commemorated Iranian commanders killed in the devastating Iran-Iraq war.

War veterans in wheelchairs, nomadic tribesmen in colorful attire and turbaned clerics wearing khaki instead of their trademark robes also joined the parade.

A phalanx of women carrying assault rifles with flowers in the barrels marched past wearing black chadors, the enveloping dress worn by traditional Muslim women in the Islamic Republic.

Various homegrown and foreign-made tanks, armored personnel carriers and missiles were also on display. Iran is the fourth country in the Middle East, after Israel, Turkey and Egypt, to manufacture main battle tanks.

Iran's relations with Iraq have remained strained in the 13 years since a cease-fire was announced and the two countries have not yet signed a formal peace treaty.

The two countries have not yet released all prisoners of war and accuse each other of harboring armed opposition groups who regularly carry out cross-border raids.

Iraq commemorated the anniversary on September 4, the date it accuses Iran of initiating hostilities. Iraq's official press has called for a new page to be turned in relations.

Tehran blames Washington for encouraging Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to attack Iran less than two years after the 1979 Islamic revolution that deposed the U.S.-backed Shah.

Iran's oil-rich Arab neighbors were also blamed for keeping the cogs of Iraq's war machine oiled by injecting billions of petro-dollars into the Iraqi economy during the war years.

But relations with Arab neighbors have vastly improved since the moderate Khatami took office in 1997.

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