Iran’s Guard begins new land military exercises
* Iranian FM says Tehran keen to quickly resume talks
* Salehi says Iran remains prepared for worst-case scenario
* Britain warns Israel over military action against Iran
TEHRAN: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says it has begun a two-day land military exercise to upgrade its capabilities to defend the country against possible external threats.
Commander of the Guard’s ground forces Mohammad Pakpour said on comments posted on the force’s website sepahnews.com that the manoeuvres dubbed Valfajr, or Dawn, began on Sunday outside the city of Yazd in central Iran.
The Guard is Iran’s most powerful military unit. The exercises are the latest in a series of manoeuvres held amid escalating tensions between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear programme. The US and Israel have not ruled out military strikes against Iran’s programme, which they say aims at developing weapons technology. Iran says the programme is for peaceful purposes.
Meanwhile, Iran is to host a high-level team from the UN nuclear watchdog on Monday as part of efforts to defuse dire international tensions over its atomic activities through dialogue. But other words being spoken in Israel, the United States and Britain — and Iran’s defiant moves to boost its nuclear activities — underlined the prospect of possible Israeli military action against the Islamic republic. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Sunday said his country was keen to quickly resume mooted talks with world powers, once a place and date were agreed.
The last talks collapsed in Istanbul in January 2011, but Iran has responded positively to an EU offer to look at reviving them. “We are looking for a mechanism for a solution for the nuclear issue in a way that it is win-win for both sides,” Salehi said. But he added that Iran remained prepared for a ‘worst-case scenario’. Such a scenario — war — remained very much the subtext of a visit to Israel on Sunday by US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
Israel has been gripped by feverish speculation in recent weeks that it is closer to mounting a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear programme, though Tel Aviv has denied reaching such a decision. British Foreign Secretary William Hague also warned on the BBC on Sunday: “I don’t think the wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran. Israel’s calculations will have taken into account an announcement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last Tuesday that his scientists were boosting uranium enrichment, notably by adding 3,000 more centrifuges to a facility at Natanz.
Iran also appeared to be about to install thousands of new centrifuges in another, heavily fortified enrichment facility near the city of Qom, a diplomat accredited to the UN nuclear watchdog told the BBC. Iran says the enrichment is part of a purely peaceful civilian nuclear programme. Western nations and Israel, though, fear it is part of a drive to develop the ability to make atomic weapons.
A November report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, strongly suggested Iran’s programme included nuclear weapons research. The IAEA delegation due in Tehran on Monday is to hold two days of talks with Iranian officials on those suspicions. A previous visit on the same issue at the end of January, though, yielded no breakthrough.
“I’m not optimistic that Iran will provide much more information because I think any honest answers to the IAEA’s questions would confirm that Iran had been involved in weapons-related development work and Iran wouldn’t want to admit that for fear of being penalised,” Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies told AFP. agencies