TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – Iran’s supreme leader said Thursday that if the United States were to attack Iran, the country would respond by striking U.S. interests all over the world — the latest sharp exchange in an escalating standoff between the two countries.
The comments by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came on the same day that another top official, Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, warned in a column in The New York Times that efforts to isolate Iran would backfire on the United States, increasing sectarian tensions in the volatile Middle East, including Iraq.
The United States is reaping “the expected bitter fruits of its ill-conceived adventurism,” he said.
“But rather than face these unpleasant facts, the United States administration is trying to sell an escalated version of the same failed policy. It does this by trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq,” he said.
The United States and Iran have been in an increasingly tense standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. The tensions have worsened recently because of U.S. allegations of Iranian influence in Iraq.
The United States has denied it has any plans to strike Iran militarily but has sent an additional aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf in what U.S. officials call an effort to show strength in the face of rising Iranian regional influence.
Speaking to a gathering of air force commanders, Khamenei said: “The enemy knows well that any invasion would be followed by a comprehensive reaction to the invaders and their interests all over the world.”
In another sign of the tensions, Iran’s intelligence minister also said the government had detected a network of U.S and Israeli spies, and had detained a second group of people who planned to go abroad for espionage training, state television reported. It gave few details.
The allegation comes just a few days after an Iranian diplomat was detained in Baghdad in an incident that Iran blamed on U.S. forces. The Americans have denied involvement in the diplomat’s detention.
Iranian leaders often speak of a crushing response to any U.S. attack. While the remarks are seen as an attempt to drum up national support, Iran’s position on Iraq and its nuclear program has provoked harsher international and especially U.S. pressure in recent months.
President Bush has ordered American troops to act against Iranians suspected of being involved in the Iraqi insurgency in addition to deploying the second carrier. The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions because of Iran’s refusal to cease uranium enrichment, and is due to consider strengthening later this month.
“Some people say that the U.S. president is not prone to calculating the consequences of his actions,” Khamenei said in remarks broadcast on state television, “but it is possible to bring this kind of person to wisdom.”
“U.S. policymakers and analysts know that the Iranian nation would not let an invasion go without a response,” Khamenei added.
Last week, a publication called Sobh-e Sadegh, the official publication of Iran’s elite and hard-line Revolutionary Guards, also warned against American attacks, pointing out that because the U.S. has large numbers of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, central Asia and Europe, it would be easy to kidnap Americans in retaliation.
In his talk Thursday, Khamenei also addressed rumors about his health — a subject that is rarely discussed openly in Iran. Last month, there was speculation his health had deteriorated seriously.
“Enemies of the Islamic system fabricated various rumors about death and health to demoralize the Iranian nation, but they did not know that they are not dealing with only one person in Iran. They are facing a nation,” Khamenei said.