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Iran warns U.S. to stay out of its airspace

From Kasra Naji

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iran "will take action" against American warplanes that regularly violate its airspace in the event of a U.S. strike on neighboring Afghanistan, the country's defense minister said Monday.

"Mistakes are mistakes," Rear Adm. Ali Shamkhani told reporters. "But if they are repeated, it means they are planned and we will take action."

During the Persian Gulf war, Iran claims that U.S. planes and missiles repeatedly strayed into its airspace, but the country made no protests.

Iran said on Sunday that it would not support any U.S. military operations, warning that a U.S. military buildup in the region could have unpredictable consequences. Shamkhani said Tehran objects to any military operation against Afghanistan, and Iranian armed forces were vigilant and were fully monitoring all military and political developments in the region.

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Shamkhani also admitted for the first time that Iran has been supplying the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance with arms, and would continue to do so.

"We will support them like we have always done," he said.

Iran has good relations with the Northern Alliance and Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, but remains undecided about the political developments in neighboring Afghanistan.

Iran opposes the return of exiled Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah, fearing the monarch's return would incite a pro-monarchy sentiment in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The former king has offered to lead an interim government in Afghanistan if the Taliban -- the fundamentalist Islamic militia that rules most of the country -- were overthrown.

Shamkhani's comments came as he prepared to board a plane for an official visit to Moscow, planned before the September 11 attacks on the United States. Shamkhani and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov are expected to sign an arms sale agreement during the visit.

Referring to deployment of U.S. forces in Central Asia and the Caucasus, he said any U.S. military action would run afoul of world opinion unless unanimously endorsed by the international community.


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