Iran Says U.S. Must Leave Middle East, 'This Region Belongs to Us'

A leading Iranian general has called on President Donald Trump to withdraw his forces from the entire Middle East, arguing that the United States has wasted resources there as rival nations such as Russia and China rose.

Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told a ceremony for the premiere of a new computer game at the Art University of Tabriz in northwestern Iran that the "U.S. is facing a big economic challenge" made worse by the ongoing war on terror launched with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. Citing strategists, Safavi said that "the U.S. focused on Iraq and Afghanistan and wasted its costs, whereas the main rivals of the U.S. were China and Russia, which the U.S. ignored," according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

"In the east of the world, China, India, Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran will be the new powers of the new century," he added, as cited by the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency. "A dramatic shift of the global center of power is taking place now from the West to the East."

Echoing prior calls by Khamenei for the U.S. to withdraw from the Middle East and abandon its attempts to curb Iran's own influence in the region, Safavi said that "the U.S. must leave West Asia, this region belongs to us."

Syrians wave their national flag, along with those of Iran and Russia, as they ride in a vehicle carrying the flag of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim Amal Movement, as citizens gather to condemn the strikes carried out by the U.S., Britain and France against the Syrian government, in Damascus, Syria, on April 14. LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. and Iran have feuded since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted a West-backed monarchy reinstalled by the CIA in 1953, and a subsequent hostage crisis at Washington's embassy in Tehran. A brief diplomatic detente surrounded a 2015 nuclear agreement signed by the two nations, alongside China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, but Trump quit the deal in May over Iran's development of ballistic missiles and its support for revolutionary Shiite Muslim groups across the Middle East.

Safavi said Thursday that the country was investing in "information technology" as well as "digital art," and that Iran's "influence today has reached the Mediterranean," where the Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group and other Iran-backed forces have grown powerful, especially as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and other Sunni Muslim groups were defeated in Syria. Earlier this year, Hezbollah released a video game titled "Holy Defense" allowing players to join the group in its fight against ISIS in Syria.

Iran has also backed such groups battling ISIS in Iraq, where Trump made his first visit Wednesday. The U.S. first invaded Iraq in 2003 and has been involved in neighboring Syria since sponsoring insurgents after a 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising against the government. The U.S. formed an international coalition to fight ISIS after the jihadis took half of Iraq and Syria in 2014. Though both the U.S. and Iran were opposed to ISIS, the two countries have accused one another of destabilizing the region.

Trump's visit to the Al Asad Air Base came a week after he announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, where they were allied with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, but the president said during his trip that he had "no plans at all" to pull troops out of Iraq. The Syrian government, an ally of Russia and Iran, has viewed the U.S. as an occupying power, but the Iraqi government, which also received extensive Iranian assistance, has grown split over U.S. presence there.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet members of the U.S. military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base, in Iraq, December 26. The visit came one week after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Although the Pentagon's mission in Syria was officially limited to defeating ISIS, which has been largely eradicated, Trump's decision to exit the country has been met with controversy by a number of U.S. officials who sought to extend the U.S. military goals there to include ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and expelling forces said to be under Iranian command. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned a day after Trump made the announcement, saying he had "the right to a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned" with his.

Safavi said Thursday that the many resignations of high-ranking officials in the Trump administration were a sign of weakness.

Asked Friday by NPR what he would say to officials in China, Russia, North Korea and Iran who felt that recent political turmoil in the White House and Washington suggested that they should outwait the Trump administration, as it was in a vulnerable position, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—who himself was appointed after his predecessor was ousted by Trump in March—responded: "I don't talk about politics. I'm hoping I get to be the Secretary of State for six more years."