BEIRUT

Middle East

Iran and Syria sign pact against 'common threats'

Farhad Pouladi

Agence France Presse

TEHRAN: Defense ministers from close allies Iran and Syria on Thursday signed an agreement for military cooperation against what they called the "common threats" presented by Israel and the United States. In a joint news conference, Iranian Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar and visiting Syrian counterpart Hassan Turkmani said their talks had been aimed at consolidating their defense efforts and strengthening support for one another.

"Our cooperation is based on a strategic pact and unity against common threats. We can have a common front against Israel's threats," Turkmani told reporters after two intensive rounds of talks with Najjar.

"Our cooperation with the Iranians against Israeli threats is nothing secret and we regularly consult about this with our friends," he said.

Najjar added that the Syrian side has purchased some Iranian military equipment, but did not elaborate on the purchased items and did not say whether the purchases were made as part of Thursday's agreement. Turkmani started an official visit to Tehran on Sunday.

They also announced the formation of a joint Supreme Defense Commission, but did not give details on its mission.

Before the news conference, Iran's Defense Ministry said the two sides "stressed strengthening mutual ties and the necessity of preserving peace and stability in the region." The statement also said they discussed "ridding the region of weapons of mass destruction," in an apparent reference to the widely held belief that Israel possesses nuclear warheads.

The United States has led opposition to Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran insists is aimed at civilian energy purposes but which Washington suspects is a cover for atomic weapons-making.

US President George W. Bush has advocated diplomacy to resolve the international row over Iran's aims but has also said "all options are on the table" if the Islamic Republic refuses to halt sensitive uranium enrichment work.

Washington has included Syria in its "axis of evil" that also comprises Iran and North Korea, citing these nations as "supporters of terrorism."

Asked about US threats against Damascus and Tehran, both top brass brushed off the importance of such threats.

"This is nothing new, we will resist these threats," the Syrian defense minister said.

However, Turkmani dismissed the possibility of hosting an Iranian military base on Syrian soil.

"The language of a [foreign] military base in our country is alien to us. I want to say that it is not on the agenda," he added.

The Iranian defense minister said: "US threats are a kind of psychological operation. It is not new. With unity among the region's nations, these threats will not prevail."

But Najjar stressed that his country would continue producing missiles to "confront any offense" against its territory.

"We will continue both research and development and production of missiles as part of our current trend of activities," he said during the talks.

"If we feel that we are going to be threatened from a single side, then we should find a solution," he said.

Although the two refused to give specifics about the agreement for military cooperation, Najjar said Iran "considers Syria's security its own security, and we consider our defense capabilities to be those of Syria." Najjar also shrugged off reports that Iran could pose a threat to the region.

"Iran is ready to sign a non-aggression pact with regional countries," Najjar said.

"Our military warfare equipment is based on deterrent policies and strategy. Enemies should know about our capabilities and should not even think about an assault against us," he said in response to a question about the optimization process going on for the medium range Shahab-3 missile.

Iran's Shahab-3 missiles have a range of 2,000 kilometers, capable of hitting Israel and US bases in the region. Israel and the United States have jointly developed the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, which could intercept Iran's Shahab-3 missiles.

Turkmani also met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. - With AP

 

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