Friday, April 23, 2010

TEHRAN | Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard held war games Thursday in the strategic Persian Gulf oil route, the Hormuz Strait, a show of its military strength at a time when the country’s leaders are depicting President Obama’s new nuclear policy as a threat.

Ahead of the military maneuvers, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Washington of trying to dominate the world through its nuclear arsenal and vowed that Iran would not bend before what he called “implicit atomic threats.”

Mr. Khamenei was referring to Mr. Obama’s announcement earlier this month of a new nuclear strategy that focuses less on Cold War threats and more on preventing the spread of weapons. As part of the new guidelines, Washington vowed not to use its arsenal against nations that don’t have their own nuclear weapons, with the exception of countries that are not abiding by international non-proliferation rules - a caveat the administration said meant Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Khamenei’s rhetoric, depicting Washington as seeking to dominate Iran, appeared aimed at keeping up support at home as Iran tried to fend off a new U.S. attempt to win a fourth round of United Nations sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program.

The Obama administration is lobbying hard at the U.N. Security Council for tougher punishment of Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce either a warhead or fuel for a nuclear reactor. The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build a weapon, a claim Tehran denies.

Tehran began its own push Thursday to weaken the U.S. sanctions campaign as Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki headed to Austria, the first of several Security Council members he plans to contact in coming days.

Mr. Mottaki has said he wants to talk with council members about possibilities for a nuclear fuel deal that was originally touted as a possible way to ease the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear program but has since reached a dead end.

Iran has been holding military maneuvers, dubbed as “The Great Prophet,” in the strategic waters of the Persian Gulf annually since 2006 to show off its military capabilities - and to serve as an implicit warning of the consequences if the United States or Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Iran’s leaders have said in the past that if attacked, the country would respond by shutting off the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Gulf through which about 40 percent of the world’s oil and gas supplies passes, as well as by attacking American bases in the Gulf.

The three-day war games brought in naval, air and ground units from the Revolutionary Guard, state television reported. In the past four years, the maneuvers were held in the summer, and there was no official explanation why they were brought forward this year. But it came after repeated denunciations by Iran’s top leaders during the past week of the new U.S. nuclear policy.

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