TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's defense minister expressed his government's disquiet about the U.S. troop presence in neighboring Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search), and hinted that some Iranian generals believe they should strike first if they sense an imminent U.S. threat.
In an interview with pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, Ali Shamkhani was asked how Iran would respond if America were to attack its nuclear facilities.
"We will not sit to wait for what others will do to us," he said. "There are differences of opinion among military commanders (in Iran). Some commanders believe preventive operations is not a model created by Americans ... or is not limited to Americans. Any nation, if it feels threatened, can resort to that."
Shamkhani spoke in Farsi with an Arabic voiceover. Al-Jazeera provided a transcript of Shamkhani's Farsi comments to The Associated Press on Thursday.
President Bush has labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil" along with North Korea (search) and prewar Iraq, but U.S. officials have said recently they are sticking to diplomacy, not force, to try to end what they call Iran's drive for nuclear weapons. Iran, which says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, has become more defensive about a U.S. campaign to get U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities.
"The moment the great Satan (America) decides to take military action against us, that moment will be the end of all our nuclear obligations," Shamkhani said, referring to Iran's cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Earlier this month, Iran confirmed it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges, which can be used to enrich uranium to weapons grade, and declared it should have the right to nuclear technology that has both peaceful and weapons uses.
On Tuesday, the deputy chief of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard said Iran would destroy Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor if the Jewish state were to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Israel has not threatened to attack, but it has said it will not allow Iran to build a nuclear bomb. In 1981 Israeli fighters destroyed a nuclear reactor under construction outside Baghdad because it feared Iraq would acquire a nuclear weapon.
In his interview with Al-Jazeera, Shamkhani also spoke of Israel. "It's certain to us that Israel won't carry out any military action without a green light from America," he said. "So, you can't separate the two."
The nuclear issue is only one of many on which Iran and the United States are at odds. The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah of Iran.
Iran opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq and now fears the United States is cementing its influence in Iraq. It also fears U.S. influence in Afghanistan, where another U.S.-led campaign ousted the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I say the presence of Americans is not a sign of strength. Americans are a hostage to their own presence," Defense Minister Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera.
The United States fears Iran wants to establish a fundamentalist Shiite regime in its own image in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials have accused Iran of fomenting violence and instability in Iraq, charges Iran denies.
"The Iranian government will never pursue turmoil and unrest in Iraq," Shamkhani told Al-Jazeera.