In this photo released by the semi-official Fars news agency, taken on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, a Zelzal missile is launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps during their maneuvers outside the city of Qom, Iran. (AP Photo/Fars News Agency, Mohammad Hasanzadeh)
(CNSNews.com) – Ahead of planned drawdowns of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran continues to deepen its ties with its two neighbors, while escalating its anti-American rhetoric amid a fresh show of military bravado.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Wednesday wrapped up a 10-day exercise, Great Prophet 6, during which it test-fired what it claimed were indigenously-designed radar-evading missiles, reportedly hitting ground- and sea-based targets. The missiles’ claimed range could threaten Israel as well as U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei down, Iranian officials are highlighting what they suggest are major setbacks for the U.S. in the region, including a strategic shift in Iran-Iraq relations and warming ties with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Similarly, they are characterizing the political upheavals in the Middle East not as an “Arab spring” that may usher in greater democracy but an “Islamic awakening” that promises to undermine U.S. and Israeli interests in the region.
Shooting down any hopes that may linger within the Obama administration that Tehran may yet be open to its overtures, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Wednesday that a resumption of ties with the United States was not “on our agenda.”
Addressing military officers in the southern city of Shiraz, Mehmanparast said the U.S. had given no indication of regret or made any “attempt to make up for their past hostilities.”
“U.S. President Barack Obama claimed that he wants rapprochement with Tehran after he ascended to office, but has yet shown no sign of change in practice,” the semi-official Fars news agency commented.
“Tehran officials have frequently underlined that they would not think of resuming ties with the U.S. unless they see a real change in Washington policies in action,” it added.
Meanwhile the regime is wasting no time in strengthening relationships with Baghdad and Kabul ahead of looming U.S. troop redeployments.
The U.S. is due to pull its remaining 47,000 troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, although Iraq may yet formally ask that some remain on beyond that date. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday the administration “will consider” any such request but is otherwise “on schedule to draw down to zero by December 31.”
The U.S. has accused Iran of arming Shi’ite insurgents responsible for stepped-up attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq over recent weeks. Iran denies the allegations.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani meets with Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on June 25. (Photo: Office of the supreme leader)
At the same time Tehran is openly courting the Iraqi government. Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on the sidelines of an Iranian-hosted “anti-terror conference” late last month, and this week Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi is in Baghdad, where he and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed six agreements covering a range of issues from finance to technology.
Rahimi said Iran was ready to “provide security” for Iraq, and declared “full support” for the Maliki government.
In another first, Iran and Iraq held a major economic seminar in Baghdad on Wednesday, and Rahimi predicted that Iraq would become Iran’s leading trading partner in the near future.
Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq fought a long and costly war through the 1980s, with estimates of more than 1.5 million war and war-related deaths.
Afghanistan is also on Iran’s agenda. Karzai, too, attended the “anti-terror conference” on June 25-26, and held talks with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Khamenei told Karzai that “the Americans have been weakened in the region” and the Afghan leader asked for Iranian aid to help rebuild his country.
Obama recently announced that the U.S. would withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next 14 months, including 10,00 by the end of this year.
In other belligerent statements Iranian officials and leaders aimed at the U.S. this week:
-- Khamenei on Tuesday told a religious function that Iran’s transformation from an entity that was dependent on the U.S. and Israel into “a powerful pole of struggle against imperialism and Zionism” was a miracle and proof of Allah’s promises in the Qur’an. He made the same claim about regional uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere, which he and other Iranian officials have described as an “Islamic awakening” inspired by Iran’s Islamic revolution 32 years ago.
-- Ahmadinejad on Wednesday urged countries in the region to “be vigilant and stand against the satanic conspiracies of the arrogant powers” – the term usually used to refer to the U.S., Israel and sometimes Britain – and declared that Iran “has demonstrated that it is possible to stand against them.”
-- A senior lawmaker Wednesday confirmed plans for a show trial – in absentia – of 26 senior U.S. officials and former officials accused of crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. They include former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, FBI director Robert Mueller and predecessors Louis Freeh and Thomas Pickard, commanders of military detention centers at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and senior military officers including Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Raymond Odierno.
-- Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, former IRGC commander and now military advisor to the supreme leader, said Wednesday that with Islamic countries located on either side of the strategic straits of the Persian Gulf, the Islamic world was well-placed to control the vital energy corridor and, through it, the world’s economy.
-- Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chairman of Iran’s joint chiefs of staff, declared that Obama should put his predecessor on trial – or himself be named as a criminal along with President Bush and former British prime minister Tony Blair.