ANKARA (Reuters) - The top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Thursday the country’s leadership had no intention of reining in its influence across the Middle East despite U.S. pressure to do so, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who sees Iran as a rising threat to regional stability in the Middle East, has pledged to work with Gulf Arab states and Israel to curb what they say are Tehran’s attempts to extend its influence in the region.
“Iran’s influence in the region is inevitable and to remain a key player in the region, this influence will continue,” the adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, was quoted by Fars as saying.
Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war, Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
“Iran has no intention to abandon the oppressed nations in the region ... Our presence in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon is in coordination with the governments of these countries,” Velayati said.
“Iran is the heart of international developments ... America wants to tear down the Middle East ... Iran opposes it.”
He also criticized slogans such as “Let go of Palestine,” and “Leave Syria, think about us”, which were chanted by tens of thousands of Iranians protesting against Iran’s unelected clerical elite and Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East.
“Don’t worry about what was instigated by our foreign enemies ... Chants like ‘Not Gaza, not Lebanon’ shows their lack of understanding of international affairs... You cannot remain indifferent when your neighbor’s house is on fire,” he said.
Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Iran’s biggest unrest for nearly a decade which spread to around 80 towns and cities across Iran in early January.
Iranian authorities said 25 people died and over 3,000 people were arrested during the unrest, which lasted for more than a week and then subsided. Most of those arrested have been released but around 300 remain in jail facing charges, Iran’s interior minister said last week.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards put down the protests, which were initially sparked by soaring food prices and high unemployement but then turned political when protesters in several cities called on the clerical rulers to step down.
Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones