10202014Mon

Iran defense minister says NATO missiles harm Turkey security

DUBAI (Reuters) - The installation of Patriot anti-missile batteries sent by NATO members to bolster Turkey's defenses against a possible missile attack from Syria will only harm Turkey's security, Iran's defense minister was quoted as saying on Saturday.

NATO approved Turkey's request for the air defense system earlier this month, in a move meant to calm Ankara's fears of being hit by Syrian missiles.

Iran has strongly supported its Arab ally President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as he attempts to suppress a 21-month-old uprising against his rule. Tehran opposes the installation of NATO missiles as Western interference in the region and has said it could lead to a "world war.

"The installation of Patriot missiles in Turkey plays no role in establishing Turkey's security and this harms the country of Turkey," Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Saturday, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA). "The West has always pursued its viewpoints and interests and we disagree with the presence of Western countries in regional interactions."

Vahidi also denied that Iran is training Syrian forces to battle the rebels, ISNA reported. Iran considers itself, Syria's rulers and the Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah as part of an "axis of resistance" against U.S. and Israeli power in the Middle East, but has denied accusations that it helping Assad militarily.

"Syria has no need for the training of its forces by the Islamic Republic of Iran, because Syria has a powerful military which has prepared itself for involvement with the Zionist regime (Israel)," Vahidi said.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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