Iranian defence minister slams US plan for Middle East
BEIRUT (AFP) Feb 27, 2004
Iran's Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani on Friday rejected Washington's plan to spread US-style democracy across the Middle East, saying it was a pretext to threaten his country, as well as Lebanon and Syria.

"My visit aims to reinforce cooperation to counterbalance American threats against the region under the slogan of the extension of democracy," said Shamkhani shortly after he arrived in Beirut from Damascus.

He said the alleged threats "are not aimed only at Iran, Syria and Lebanon, but also at the Umma (Islamic nation) and the people, as well as the Muslim religion under the false pretext of the fight against terrorism".

Asked directly about Washington's "Greater Middle East Initiative", the Iranian defence minister replied: "We have already seen the example of democracy in the dictatorial regimes supported by the Americans."

The initiative, which the US wants to launch at the June summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries, is expected to aim to encourage democratic reforms and economic liberalization in the region.

It has already been rejected by several countries, including regional heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Shamkhani, a religious conservative, is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with Lebanese leaders on Saturday.