President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran is stronger than ever and warned that its military will "cut the hand" of anyone who attacks. But a military parade where he spoke was marred when an air force plane crashed, killing seven people, according to state radio.
State TV showed video footage of burning wreckage from the military plane surrounded by fire trucks in farmlands south of Tehran.
There was not immediate word on the cause of the crash, but the Iranian military — as well its civilian airlines — have been plagued by lethal accidents. The crashes are blamed in part on U.S. sanctions that make it difficult for Iran to get spare parts, but experts have also said airlines are strapped for cash and often have poor maintenance.
State radio and television did not specify the type of plane that crashed, saying only it was used for transport. The air force show Tuesday included U.S.-made jet fighters and bombers acquired by Iran before its 1979 Islamic Revolution, as well as more recently acquired Russian aircraft and Iran's domestically built fighter, known as the Saeqeh, or Thunderbolt.
‘Iranian nation will resist all invaders’
The airshow was part of a military parade held on Tehran's southern outskirts showing off anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems that Iran bought from Russia in 2007 to protect its nuclear facilities as well as Iran's array of missiles capable of striking Israel, the Mideast and parts of Eastern Europe. The parade marked the anniversary of the start of the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war in which an estimated 1 million people were killed.
Iran's military readiness is such that "no power dares imagine an invasion against Iran," Ahmadinejad said in a speech at the parade. "The Iranian nation will resist all invaders."
"Our armed forces will cut the hand of anyone in the world before it pulls the trigger against the Iranian nation," he said.
The remark reflects Tehran's concerns that Israel or the United States could target it in an attempt to take out its nuclear facilities. The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons, but Tehran denies the charge and says it's for peaceful purposes only.
On Monday, Iran's archenemy Israel repeated its stance that it is keeping "all options on the table" to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear weapon, including military action.
Ahmadinejad is preparing to appear Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly, where he is expected to come under heavy pressure over the nuclear issue. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will boycott that speech, Israeli officials said Tuesday, adding they hoped other world leaders would do the same.
Iran is also poised to enter key negotiations with the United States and other powers seeking concessions on Iran's nuclear program on Oct. 1. The U.S. and its allies suspect Tehran already has enough enriched uranium to build a bomb but Iran says the uranium is for generating electricity.
‘Lashing out at the world’
Tuesday's parade speech was also meant to underline Ahmadinejad's strength in the face of a three-month domestic turmoil in which the pro-reform opposition has staged dramatic protests claiming Ahmadinejad's victory in June presidential elections was fraudulent.
Former President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that Ahmadinejad is "lashing out at the world" right now, possibly because of the international criticism after his violence-marred re-election. Appearing on NBC's "Today" show, Clinton said the question remains "whether this is a strategy in play and whether we can find some way" to engage the Iranian leader.
Last week, Ahmadinejad taunted Israel, questioning whether the Holocaust was "a real event" and calling it a pretext used by Jews to trick the West into backing the creation of Israel. On Monday, he said he was proud the remark stoked international outrage.
At the parade, Ahmadinejad lashed out at the "presence of foreign forces in the region" and said it was "unacceptable that some deploy troops to the region from thousands of kilometers (miles) away." Iran sees the U.S forces in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan as a threat.
He accused foreign powers of creating rifts among Mideast countries while saying Iran seeks to promote brotherhood and peaceful coexistence of all nations.
Tehran criticized before U.N. council
In Geneva on Tuesday, U.S. diplomat Douglas M. Griffiths criticized Tehran before the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, saying the "Iranian government harshly repressed its people's right to freedom of assembly and expression, resulting in scores of deaths of protesters as well as hundreds of arrests" in the post-election clampdown.
Iranian opposition groups say at least 72 protesters were killed in the violence that followed the balloting. Government officials maintain that only 36 people died in the unrest.
Iran has ramped up its domestic weapons production in recent years and claims to export military equipment to more than 50 countries.
Tuesday's parade for the first time displayed the Russian-made Tor-M1 air-defense system meant to defend Iran's nuclear facilities against airstrikes.
The Tor-M1 can hit aerial targets flying at up to 20,000 feet. Russia delivered the system to Iran in early 2007. The two countries are now discussing the delivery of a newer version of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system that is capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missile warheads at ranges of over 90 miles and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet.
The parade — held on the grounds next to the cemetery in southern Tehran where thousands of fallen Iranian soldiers from the war with Iraq are buried — showed off various types of Iranian missiles, including the Shahab-3 and Sejjil, with a range of 1,250 miles and 1,200 miles.