(photo credit: AP)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flexed his country's muscle at a military parade in Teheran on Saturday, hours before Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni left for New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly and focus attention on the threat from the Islamic Republic.
Ahmadinejad, who is also to attend the annual UN parley, struck a confrontational tone with his parade of fighter jets and missiles.
"Those [countries] who assume that decaying methods such as psychological war, political propaganda and the so-called economic sanctions would work and prevent Iran's fast drive toward progress are mistaken," Ahmadinejad said at the parade, which marked the 27th anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Iran that sparked the bloody 1980-88 war.
Iran's nuclear program is expected to be a focus of the numerous meetings Livni is scheduled to have in New York with counterparts from around the world. Her visit will also center on efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process.
In this regard, Livni is expected to take part Monday in a meeting of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee, a body that has not met since December 2005 and which, chaired by Norway, brings together the principal donors to the Palestinians.
The Quartet, meanwhile, is scheduled to have two different meetings on Sunday in New York, one at ministerial level to be attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues from the EU, Russia and the UN, and another one with representatives from a number of Arab countries.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair is expected to brief the Quartet Sunday on the results of his two visits to the region since being named Quartet envoy in July. The planned US-sponsored international meeting on the Middle East later this year is also expected to be a major focus of the two Quartet meetings.
Reuters reported Saturday that Rice told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during her meeting with him on Thursday that Washington planned to invite Syria to the international meeting.
Reuters quoted senior Abbas aide Nimer Hammad as saying that Rice said Washington would like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Palestinian Authority to attend the conference alongside Israel.
Government sources in Jerusalem would not confirm Saturday night that Rice informed Israeli leaders during her visit that Washington wanted to invite the Syrians. But one senior diplomatic official made it clear that Israel was opposed to the idea.
"We think that moderate countries that support a process of dialogue, and not countries that openly support terrorism, should attend the meeting," the official said. "And we have been frank about this from the start."
In Iran, meanwhile, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned against any countries hoping to conduct limited strikes against the Islamic Republic.
"Military aggression against Iran in the form of hit and run attack is not possible anymore," he was quoted on television as telling the nation's top military leaders. "Anybody attacking us will become entangled with grave consequences."
Khamenei's comments come amid calls by US lawmakers for limited strikes against Iran.
During the Iranian military parade on Saturday, three new domestically manufactured fighter jets, called the Saegheh, which means lightning in Farsi, streaked through the skies near Teheran during the large-scale military parade that also featured the Ghadr missile, which has a range of 1,800 kilometers and is capable of reaching Israel.
Some of the trucks carrying Iranian missiles were painted at the back with the popular slogans: "Down with the US" and "Down with Israel." The parade also featured flights of unmanned surveillance drones, torpedoes and battle tanks.
Iran launched an arms development program during its war with Iraq to compensate for a US weapons embargo. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own jets, torpedoes, radar-avoiding missiles, tanks and armored personnel carriers.
"Those who prevented Iran, at the height of the war, from getting even barbed wire must see now that all the equipment on display today has been built by the mighty hands and brains of experts at Iran's armed forces," Ahmadinejad said.
In the course of his trip to the US, however, Ahmadinejad is expected to address the American people in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes airing Sunday, and through his appearances in front of the UN and at a forum at Columbia University.
Even before leaving Iran, though, Ahmadinejad has already caused a stir in New York. His request to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site was denied, and protests are planned outside the UN building and at Columbia University.
He is scheduled to address the General Assembly on Tuesday - his third time attending the New York meeting in three years. Last year, Ahmadinejad was harshly critical of US policies in Iraq and Lebanon and insisted that his nation's nuclear activities were "transparent."
His trip this year comes amid tough talk between Washington and Teheran. Though Washington has said it is addressing the Iran situation diplomatically, rather than militarily, officials also say that all options are open.
On the sidelines of the parade, the head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Muhammad Ali Jafari, said the event highlighted the "might of Iran's armed forces to its enemies," adding that Iran was ready to retaliate if attacked.
"Iran has drawn up plans to confront enemies in the face of any possible attack," the official IRNA news agency quoted Jafari as saying.
The cabinet, meanwhile, is expected to approve on Sunday the release of some 100 security prisoners for Ramadan. The ministers will be asked to approve the release in principle, and then an interministerial committee that deals with prisoner releases will meet Sunday afternoon to go over a list of names that has already been drawn up.
Government sources said the list did not include anyone with "blood on their hands," but did include Palestinians convicted of security offences who had at least a year left on their sentences. The list will not include anyone affiliated with Hamas or Islamic Jihad, the sources said. â€¢