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Iran Warns Neighbors Over U.S. Presence In The Gulf

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad warned Gulf countries today against the U.S. presence in the region, saying Washington aimed to dominate their energy resources in the name of fighting terrorism.

Iran opposes the U.S. military presence on its borders in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf, saying Western military intervention is the root of insecurity in the region.

"We warn the countries in the region over the presence of bullying powers...They have not come here to restore security or to counter drug trafficking," Ahmadinejad said in a speech during a visit to the southern province of Hormuzgan.

The hard-line president accused the West of planning to dominate energy resources in the Gulf and said: "People in the region will cut off their hands from the Persian Gulf's oil."

Tension between Iran and the West has risen over the Islamic state's nuclear program, with Western powers calling for a fourth round of UN sanctions over Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

The West suspects Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran says it plans only civilian nuclear facilities.

Washington and its Western allies say they want a diplomatic solution but have not ruled out military action against the Islamic republic.

"Iran's message to the countries in the region is nothing but the message of friendship and brotherhood," Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the provincial capital, Bandar Abbas.

The United States said in January it had expanded missile defense systems in and around the Gulf -- a waterway crucial for global oil supplies -- to counter what it sees as Iran's growing missile threat.

Iran condemned the move and accused Washington of seeking to stoke "Iran-phobia."

Ahmadinejad questioned the reasons behind sending troops to Afghanistan after the attack on the New York's World Trade Center in September 2001 and said: "They sent troops to Afghanistan under the name of fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.

"What was the result of their presence after almost 10 years in Afghanistan? ... Nothing but poverty and insecurity."

Ahmadinejad and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates traded barbs on March 10 during separate brief visits to Afghanistan, where Washington has troops at war but Tehran has growing clout.

In a news conference in Kabul, Ahmadinejad said U.S. and Western troops would never defeat terrorism by waging war in Afghanistan.

"Why is it that those who say they want to fight terrorism are never successful? I think it is because they are the ones who are playing a double game," he said.

Gates said earlier in the week that Iran was playing a "double game" in Afghanistan by being friendly to the government while trying to undermine the United States.