Iranian President Vows to Support Syria

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Wednesday his country will not recognize a U.S.-installed interim administration in Iraq and will support Syria if it is attacked.

It was the first time a senior official had defined Iran's already well-known stance on a postwar Iraq.

"We will not recognize any administration other than an all Iraqi government. However, we are not seeking tension or confrontation with anybody," Khatami told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

On Tuesday, retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner, chosen by the United States to lead the interim administration, opened a conference in Ur, Iraq, with the goal of shaping Iraq's postwar government.

"The Iraqi nation will not accept any foreign rule," Khatami said. "It is in the interests of morality, civility and international law that an administration representing all Iraqi ethnic, religious groups take over in Iraq and in the long term a government is elected on the basis of one vote for each Iraqi citizen."

In the first official Iranian comment on U.S. claims that Syria was hosting members of Saddam Hussein's regime, Khatami said the rhetoric was a "bluff" and that Iran would support Syria if attacked.

"Syria is on the front line against Zionist pressures, defending the cause of the Palestinian nation, freedom and peace in the region. We will defend Syria but it doesn't mean we will engage in military confrontation," he said.

The U.S. administration has accused Syria of harboring remnants of Saddam's toppled regime, supporting terrorism and possessing chemical weapons, raising fears that Syria is America's next target.

Khatami said the United States must learn to respect other nations and live with them in peace.

"Their [U.S.] interests also require that they give up (bullying) methods and live with the world in peace," he said.

Khatami called on the United States to avoid tension with Iran.

"We have big problems with America. But we don't welcome tensions either. If we feel they are changing their behavior, then a new situation may emerge (in our relations)," he said.

Meanwhile, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the failure of the Iraqi Republican Guards in defending their country against U.S.-led coalition forces would remain "an eternal disgrace," state-run Tehran television reported.

"The world always pays tribute to defenders who resist, even if they are defeated by the enemy, but is ashamed of their humiliating surrender," the television quoted Khamenei as saying.