Iran kicks off new war games in strategic Persian Gulf waters, 2nd such exercise in a month

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Wednesday kicked off new war games and military maneuvers in the strategic Persian Gulf waters, the country's second military show of force in less than a month.

The exercises reflect Iran's desire to flex its military muscle at a time of a deepening standoff with the West over Tehran's controversial nuclear program. The war games, held annually since 2006, also act as a warning, should U.S. or Israel consider a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The new maneuvers, dubbed "Velayat 89," are to last eight days in the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman and cover about 97,000 square miles (250,000 square kilometers) of Iranian territorial waters, reported state TV.

In late April, Iran's Revolutionary Guard held five-day maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Iran's leaders have in the past said that if attacked, the country would respond by shutting off the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Gulf through which around 40 percent of the world's oil and gas supplies passes, as well as by attacking American bases in the Gulf.

Navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari was quoted by the TV as saying Wednesday that Iran's Navy, backed by the air force, will "show its might" in the latest exercise.

The exercise comes as 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 West accuses Iran of seeking to build a weapon, a claim Tehran denies, insisting its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as power generation.

The exercise also comes against the backdrop of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remarks on the sidelines of a nuclear treaty conference at U.N. headquarters in New York dismissing the threat of further economic penalties for Iran.

Ahmadinejad has recently been lobbying China and Russia, the two among the Security Council's five veto-wielding permanent members that have been reluctant to endorse further sanctions against Iran, and also rotating members such as Uganda and Brazil.

As the sole head of state to attend the once-every-five-years Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty gathering, Ahmadinejad argued in New York that any new sanctions would mean President Barack Obama has given up on his campaign to engage Iran diplomatically.

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