DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran may seek to set up naval bases in Yemen or Syria in the future, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces said in remarks published on Sunday.
His comments, likely to be of concern to Shi'ite Iran's Sunni regional rival Saudi Arabia and its allies, raised the prospect of distant footholds perhaps being more valuable militarily to Tehran than nuclear technology.
"We need distant bases, and it may become possible one day to have bases on the shores of Yemen or Syria, or bases on islands or floating (bases)," said General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, quoted by the Shargh daily newspaper.
"Is having distant bases less than nuclear technology? I say it is worth dozens of times more," added Baqeri, who was speaking at a gathering of naval commanders.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposite sides in Middle East conflicts, with the Iranians a main ally of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war and of the armed Houthi movement fighting a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen.
In a rare rebuke for Iran, a Houthi official on Sunday criticized Baqeri's comments and urged Tehran to read about the history of failed attempts to occupy Yemen.
"Not one inch of Yemen's land or waters will be forfeited to any foreign party ... whether a friend or an enemy," said Saleh al-Samad, the Houthis' political council chief in a statement on Facebook.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Andrew Bolton)