TEHRAN, Iran – From the deck of Iran's new guided-missile destroyer, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized the United States' military presence in the Gulf Friday and said Washington was trying to frighten Iran's Arab neighbors so it could sell them weapons.
Khamenei made the comments after being given a tour of the destroyer Jamaran, which was launched at a Gulf port Friday. State television, which broadcast the event, said the warship was the country's first domestically built destroyer and a major technological leap for Iran's naval industries.
Using the backdrop of military might, Khamenei declared that America and Israel were trying to sow divisions between Iran and Arab nations.
"The U.S. and the Zionist regime are trying to spread divisions to distract the attention of Islamic nations from the main enemies of the Islamic world, which are the U.S. and Israel," Khamenei said in remarks broadcast on state TV.
Khamenei said the presence of foreign forces in the Persian Gulf "disturbs security" in the region but that Washington will fail to achieve its goals.
U.S. military officials said last month that Washington was deploying upgraded Patriot missiles in Arab nations in the region and more U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf capable of destroying missiles in flight. The system, they said, is intended to counter a potential Iranian missile strike.
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is also based in the Arab nation of Bahrain, just across the Gulf from Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia this week to discuss Iran, warning that Tehran could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East if it chooses to development atomic weapons.
The predominantly Sunni Arab Middle East — and Gulf nations in particular — have been wary of the growing influence of Shiite Iran, especially because of international suspicions that its nuclear program has a military dimension.
Khamenei said Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons and that, in any case, Islam forbids weapons of mass destruction. Iran maintains its nuclear work is only for peaceful purposes like energy generation.
He said accusations by President Barack Obama and other American officials to the contrary were made out of anger.
"Repeating absurd words about the building of nuclear weapon in Iran shows that the enemies are resorting to repeating the propaganda out of ultimate failure," Khamenei said.
"We've said time and again that our religious principles and beliefs consider such weapons to be a symbol of destruction that is forbidden. Because of this reason, we don't have any belief in the atomic bomb and don't pursue it," he said.
Khamenei, wearing clerical robes and a turban and walking with a cane, inspected the ship on a tour led by senior naval officers. Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, is also the commander in chief of Iran's armed forces.
The warship is equipped with anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles as well as torpedoes and naval cannons, state television said. Khamenei's attendance was a sign of the significance that Iran attached to the event.
Iran has declared many such advances in its military industries and sciences to demonstrate self-sufficiency despite sanctions and attempts by the U.S. and its allies to isolate the country over its nuclear program.
State TV said the destroyer was launched in Bandar Abbas, a port city in southern Iran just at the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic point in the Gulf through which much of the world's oil and other energy supplies pass.
The 94-meter (308-foot) destroyer weighs 1,500 tons and has a helipad and modern radar. The ship has a top speed of 30 knots and can carry 120 to 140 personnel, state TV said, adding that a second destroyer is now under construction.
Iran has also opened new air and naval bases on its eastern and southern borders in recent years. Most of the country's 12 air force bases are situated in the west near the border with Iraq and Turkey. The latest steps are part of Iran's plans to boost its defense capabilities in the Persian Gulf, believing that the biggest possible threat to Iran will come from the air and sea.
Iran launched an arms development program during its ruinous 1980-88 war with neighboring Iraq to compensate for a U.S. arms embargo. Since 1992, Iran says it has produced its own jet fighters, torpedoes, radar-avoiding missiles, tanks and armored carriers.