(AFP, TEHRAN) - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on a visit to the Caspian Sea region Tuesday that Iran had no expansionist aspirations, but will defend all of its borders against aggression.
"Iran has never sought to launch an assault against any country, but it will forcefully defend its border regions, including the Caspian Sea borders (...) against any aggressors," Khamenei told a group of military commanders in the northwestern province of Ardebil, as cited by the official IRNA news agency.
Khamenei, who is also the commander-in-chief of Iran's armed forces, stressed that "no power, including the United Sates, can impede the evolution of the Islamic regime."
Iran has in the past accused its neighbors, particularly Azerbaijan, of being too friendly to the United States and Israel. Azerbaijan has secured a number of major energy contracts with US and other foreign firms since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The Caspian Sea is home to the world's third richest reserve of hydrocarbons after the Gulf and Siberia, prompting a bitter rivalry among the five nations bordering it: Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in June that his country was ready to share the sea's resources "equitably."
Viktor Kalyuzhny, Russia's deputy foreign minister and special envoy on Caspian affairs, is expected in Tehran from July 31 to August 1 after visits to the other Caspian nations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to be hoping to win back lost influence in the Caspian region and gain control over its oil and gas reserves.
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )