(CNN) — The specter of U.S. military intervention in Syria prompted dire warnings from Iran’s supreme leader, new president, and top diplomat, according to Iran’s Fars News Agency.
Talk of U.S. military action against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime emerged after what rebels say was a deadly chemical attack by the regime that killed civilians last week.
Since then, a flurry of comments and activity seems to be laying the groundwork for a military strike against the regime. At the same time, United Nations inspectors are looking for evidence that chemical weapons were used in the Damascus suburbs.
“Starting this fire will be like a spark in a large store of gunpowder, with unclear and unspecified outcomes and consequences,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranian Cabinet members in Tehran on Wednesday.
“The U.S. threats and possible intervention in Syria is a disaster for the region and if such an act is done, certainly, the Americans will sustain damage like when they interfered in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
President Hassan Rouhani, also speaking to the Cabinet, said people in the Middle East and the world won’t accept “a new war” and deplored threats to use force.
“Any adventurism in the region will pose irreparable dangers to the stability of the region and the world and will merely lead to the spread of extremism and terrorism in the region,” Rouhani said.
He called on the U.N. inspectors to carry out unbiased investigations to identify the culprits behind the chemical weapons use in Syria, and said, “Each and every measure should be taken with respect to the sensitive situation of the region, rapid ending of the internal crisis, and prevention of extremism in the region and in the framework of the international rules and regulations.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif likened a possible attack to a return to “the Middle Ages.”
Zarif condemned any possible military intervention in Syria on Wednesday, warning of “graver conditions” should strikes be carried out.
The United States has deployed warships off the coast of Syria, and Western powers say a strike on Syria could be imminent after reports of a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds.
Iran has backed the al-Assad regime in the Syrian conflict, which grew into a full-blown civil war after a fierce government crackdown started on civilian protesters in March 2011.
As the crisis worsened, the United States and other Western countries embarked on diplomacy and shunned force to end the crisis, which has left more than 100,000 people dead and millions of civilians displaced, according to the United Nations.
But the attack on the outskirts of Damascus last week appeared to have changed the dynamics and put the possibility of force front and center.
The al-Assad government, Syrian rebels say, used chemical weapons in the attack and killed more than 1,300 people.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last year that the movement or use of chemical weaponry in Syria would represent a “red line” in the conflict.
Along with Iran, Russia has criticized the idea of a strike in Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there’s no proof yet Syria’s government is behind last week’s chemical attack. Russia accused Washington of trying to “create artificial groundless excuses for military intervention.”
“The West handles the Islamic world the way a monkey handles a grenade,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Twitter.
By Ben Brumfield and Joe Sterling, CNN