Iran opposes US revenge against Afghanistan, seeks Muslim consensus
TEHRAN, Sept 17 (AFP) - Iran on Monday opposed any US military reprisal against Afghanistan and insisted the United Nations lead the fight against terrorism, despite Tehran's condemnation of the anti-American terror attacks.
The Iranian leadership also sought to build a consensus in the Muslim world on the terrorism crisis.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran condemns any eventual military action in Afghanistan which would lead to a new human catastrophe," said the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"If the United States wants to increase its power through its presence in Pakistan and sending troops into Afghanistan, the problems will increase on a daily basis," he told a meeting of Muslim clerics, state radio reported.
Are the Muslims of Afghanistan "once more to be crushed under the yoke of war because some people are alleged to have taken part in the attacks in the United States, although these accusations have not been proved?" he asked.
President Mohammad Khatami, meanwhile, said the fight against terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 suicide bombings in the United States should be handled by the United Nations.
"The United Nations, which is the assembly of all governments, is the right place to find a suitable and just way to eradicate the phenomenon" of terrorism, he said in a letter to UN chief Kofi Annan.
"The struggle against terrorism cannot be based on hasty reactions," he wrote, criticising the expected US retaliation against Afghanistan for harbouring Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the attacks.
Iran, though fiercely hostile to the United States, swiftly condemned the plane bombings in New York and Washington but has warned against any impulsive US reaction, while taking precautions against a massive influx of refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan.
Aiming to build a Muslim consensus, Khatami on Monday also called for an emergency ministerial meeting of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said a presidential source in Tehran.
"It is appropriate to urgently assemble the foreign ministers of the IOC, given the current sensitive situation," Khatami wrote to the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who currently chairs the OIC.
"Alas, such a dramatic strike against humanity provides a pretext for those who seek to gain from the confrontation between Islamic and western civilisations," Khatami said.
In Washington, a senior State Department official said Washington was pleased but unconvinced with pledges from Iran, as well as Syria, to support US efforts to build an anti-terrorism coalition.
The official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, was especially tough on Iran, with whom the United States has severed diplomatic ties since 1980.
"Iran has a long way to go to show a shred of credibility," the official said, noting Tehran's longstanding support for groups branded terrorist organisations by Washington, including Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
According to political circles in Tehran, Iran could be asked to open its airspace for international action against the Taliban militia which holds power in Kabul and of which Tehran is a sworn foe.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has written to Khatami asking for Iran "to play an active role to prevent" a clash of civilisations, referring to Islam and the West, according to a message in Persian received by AFP.
"We must not allow the terrorists to bring about a confrontation between our cultures and religions," said Blair.
Iranian MPs have launched a debate over military action in Tehran's back yard, warning that the Islamic republic's interests and national security were at stake.
Tehran has "cautioned its neighbours", notably Pakistan, against direct involement in a US-led military operation, said a member of the parliament's national security commission, Mohammad Kyanoushrad.
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