A senior U.S. official has dismissed Iran's threats against NATO missile defense installations in Turkey ahead of a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to the key U.S. ally and linchpin of NATO's southern flank.
An Iranian general said Saturday that Tehran would target NATO's early warning radar in Turkey if the U.S. or Israel attacks the Islamic Republic after an International Atomic Energy Agency report said for the first time that Tehran was suspected of conducting secret experiments whose sole purpose was the development of nuclear arms.
Antony Blinken, national security adviser to Biden, told a teleconference briefing from Washington on Monday that "making threatening statements doesn't serve anyone's purpose, least of all the Iranians."
"Turkey shares our goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran," Blinken added, according to a transcript posted on the U.S. embassy website.
Ankara agreed to host the radar in September as part of NATO's missile defense system, which is capable of countering ballistic missile threats from its neighbor, Iran. Turkey insists the shield doesn't target a specific country but Tehran says the radar is meant to protect Israel from Iranian missile attacks if a war breaks out with the Jewish state.
The U.S. and its Western allies suspect Iran of trying to produce atomic weapons, and Israel, which views Tehran as an existential threat, has warned of a possible strike on Iran's nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
"Should we be threatened, we will target NATO's missile defense shield in Turkey and then hit the next targets," Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a senior commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard as saying on Saturday.
A military installation in the Turkish town of Kurecik, some 370 miles (600 kilometers) west of the Iranian border, has been designated as the radar site, according to Turkish government officials. The deployment in Turkey, the biggest Muslim voice in NATO, signals improving ties with Washington since the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Turkey also closely works with U.S. forces in NATO operations in Afghanistan and Libya, though it is not directly involved in combat.
The deployment of the NATO radar in Turkey was "very important to the defense of all NATO countries against the growing missile threat that is emerging in the world," Blinken said. "We're very pleased that Turkey is standing up as a NATO ally to do that."
Under the NATO plans, a limited system of U.S. anti-missile interceptors and radars already planned for Europe _ to include interceptors in Romania and Poland as well as the radar in Turkey _ would be linked to expanded European-owned missile defenses. That would create a broad system that protects every NATO country against medium-range missile attack
Russia sees the U.S. missile defense plans in Europe as a security challenge, even though Washington says they are aimed against a potential Iranian missile threat and can't pose a threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent.
Biden was scheduled to meet Turkish leaders in Ankara on Friday, before traveling to Istanbul to attend the second Global Entrepreneurship Summit aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and facilitate innovation and private enterprise.
The summit continues the work of the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington in April 2010, the U.S. embassy said on its website.
Biden will later travel to Greece to meet with new Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who took office earlier this month.