Navy en­gages in ma­neu­vers off Iran’s coast as ten­sions rise

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bill Gertz

The Navy be­gan a ma­jor ex­er­cise near Iran’s Per­sian Gulf coast on May 23 amid ten­sions with Tehran over stepped-up nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties and on­go­ing sup­port for in­sur­gents in Iraq.

Two air­craft car­ri­ers and a he­li­copter as­sault ship, along with 17,000 Marines and sailors, are en­gaged in the ma­neu­vers to sup­port op­er­a­tions in Iraq and for “ex­pe­di­tionary strike force” train­ing, the Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet head­quar­ters said.

The United States has crit­i­cized Iran for sup­ply­ing in­sur­gents in Iraq with deadly ar­mor-pierc­ing road­side bombs and other ex­plo­sives. U.S. and Ira­nian of­fi­cials will meet in Bagh­dad on May 28 to dis­cuss Iran’s role in Iraq, and talks be­tween Iran and the Euro­pean Union on the nu­clear is­sue are set for late this month.

Mean­while, an up­dated In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA) re­port made pub­lic on May 23 stated that Iran had stepped up il­licit ura­nium en­rich­ment and that Tehran’s re­fusal to co­op­er­ate in in­ter­na­tional con­trols had re­duced the agency’s abil­ity to mon­i­tor the pro­gram.

“Be­cause the agency has not been re­ceiv­ing for over a year in­for­ma­tion that Iran used to pro­vide,” the IAEA’s “level of knowl­edge of cer­tain as­pects of Iran’s nu­clear-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties has de­te­ri­o­rated,” the four-page re­port to the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil stated.

R. Ni­cholas Burns, the un­der­sec­re­tary of state for po­lit­i­cal af­fairs, said the United States op­poses con­ces­sions to Iran on ura­nium en­rich­ment.

“We are not go­ing to agree to ac­cept lim­ited en­rich­ment, to ac­cept that 1,300 cen­trifuges can con­tinue spin­ning at their plant at Natanz,” Mr. Burns said.

At the White House, a spokesman called the IAEA re­port “a laun­dry list of Iran’s con­tin­ued de­fi­ance of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

“The United States will con­sult with our part­ners on next steps, but now is the time for Iran to com­ply with the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, co­op­er­ate with the IAEA and most im­por­tantly, sus­pend its en­rich­ment-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties,” spokesman Gor­don John­droe said.

Navy spokesman Cmdr. Kevin Aan­dahl said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Bahrain that the mil­i­tary ex­er­cise is not di­rected at any na­tion.

“This is not a pre­cur­sor to any of­fen­sive ac­tion,” Cmdr. Aan­dahl said.

De­spite ef­forts by the Navy to play down the saber rat­tling, Ira­nian mil­i­tary of­fi­cials de­nounced the ex­er­cise as U.S. in­tim­i­da­tion.

Ira­nian De­fense Min­is­ter Mostafa Mo­ham­mad Na­j­jar said in Tehran in re­sponse to the naval ex­er­cise that Iran will re­sist any threat.

“Is­lamic Iran will re­sist [. . . ] any kind of threat and will give a pow­er­ful an­swer to en­e­mies and op­pres­sors,” he told the of­fi­cial IRNA news agency.

Cmdr. Aan­dahl said the mil­i­tary ex­er­cises will in­clude sur­face and anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare prac­tice, as well as avi­a­tion sor­ties. The ships in­volved in­clude the car­ri­ers USS John C. Sten­nis and USS Nimitz and the he­li­copter car­rier USS Bon­homme Richard, which has 2,200 Marines.

The ex­er­cises cur­rently are lim­ited to U.S. Navy ships but could in­clude forces from coali­tion na­tions such as Aus­tralia, Bri­tain, Den­mark, France or Pak­istan in the near fu­ture.

“We are con­duct­ing this train­ing in or­der to gain valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence across a wide spec­trum of naval dis­ci­plines,” said the 5th Fleet com­man­der, Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cos­griff. “This train­ing demon­strates our com­mit­ment to se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in the Gulf area, and our com­mit­ment to re­gional part­ners.”

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