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. US leads Gulf naval maneuvers amid Iran tensions
MANAMA, Oct 30 (AFP) Oct 30, 2006
US-led naval forces conducted maneuvers in the Gulf Monday aimed at fighting weapons proliferation amid tensions over Iran's nuclear program and fears of attacks on oil facilities in the region.

"Naval forces and law enforcement personnel from Australia, Bahrain, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States participated in Exercise Leading Edge October 30 in international waters off the northeastern coast of Bahrain," said a statement by the Bahrain-based US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

The exercise was part of an initiative in "response to the growing challenge posed by the proliferation of WMD, their delivery systems, and related materials worldwide," the statement said.

It quoted US ambassador in Bahrain William Monroe as hailing the participation of many countries either as full participants or as observers, singling out the Gulf Arab states of Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar and the UAE apparently took part as observers in the maneuvers.

A US State Department official said earlier that the United States would lead the international naval maneuvers off Iran's west coast beginning Monday.

Although the official, who insisted on anonymity, did not mention Iran, the maneuvers come as the five powers of the UN Security Council mull a resolution to hit Tehran with sanctions for ignoring a UN call to halt uranium enrichment.

The US and key European states believe Iran's enrichment program is designed to supply material for a nuclear weapon, while Tehran insists its fuel processing is for peaceful purposes.

The maneuvers also come as Western naval forces in the Gulf between Iran and Saudi Arabia said they were on alert for possible terror attacks against oil installations in the region.

Officials in Saudi Arabia said oil installations in the country were a "high-probability potential target," but tight security measures were in place.

"Coalition forces are taking prudent, precautionary measures and focusing maritime security operations in the Gulf on these possible threats," Lieutenant Commander Charlie Brown, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the Iraq coalition naval forces, told AFP Friday.

Brown said the measures were "in response to recent threats to oil infrastructure in the Gulf, including public statements by Al-Qaeda leadership."

He declined to go into detail when asked if the threats were aimed specifically against installations in Saudi Arabia, which operates the world's largest oil terminal at Ras Tannura on the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia pumps more than nine million barrels of oil per day and sits on a quarter of global oil reserves.

Iran said on Sunday it was unconcerned about the war games and had the situation under control.

"US warships move regularly in the Persian Gulf and in the Sea of Oman, and we have them under surveillance," said the navy's commander Sajad Kouchaki.

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