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Iran War Games As US Carrier Moves In To Gulf Region

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has sailed into the entered the US 5th Fleet area of operations.Iran steps up probes in Iraqi waters: US defense official
Washington (AFP) Feb 20 - Iranian patrol boats have stepped up probes into Iraqi waters in the northern Gulf near two giant Iraqi offshore oil terminals over the past couple of weeks, a US defense official said Tuesday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the incursions were not aggressive in nature and the Iranian patrol boats moved back into their waters when warned. "It appears to be a probing or checking things out," the official said.

But US navy officials have observed an increase in the incidents, in which Iranian patrol boats have crossed an operational line that demarcates Iranian from Iraqi waters in the northern Gulf, the official said. The two Iraqi offshore oil terminals are located in the area, the official said. "Nobody is thinking it's something aggressive," the official said. "They've just noted an increase. When warned to move, they move."

The probes come at a time of heightened US-Iranian tensions. A diplomatic confrontation over Iran's nuclear program and US charges that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are arming extremists in Iraq to attack US forces have led to muscle-flexing by both countries. A second US aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, has arrived in the region at the head of a naval battle group that US officials say is meant to affirm Washington's commitment to the Gulf, source of about a quarter of the world's oil shipments.

by Stuart Williams
Tehran (AFP) Feb 20, 2007
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday staged a war game simulating an enemy air strike as a second nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier arrived in regional waters in an apparent warning to Tehran. The Revolutionary Guards land forces fought back the hypothetical air strike from enemy helicopters, planes and missiles with 620 anti-aircraft cannon and shoulder missiles, state television said.

"Today, we are fighting back at all kinds of planes at low and average altitudes," said Brigader General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the commander of the Guards' land forces.

"The manoeuvre is exceptional in terms of the number and types of the weapons used. We have used anti-helicopter weapons with a range of more than 10 kilometres (six miles)," he said.

It was the second of the three-day "Power Manoeuvre" exercises involving 3,000 units of the elite force in 16 of Iran's 30 provinces, the second war games staged by the Guards this month.

Although Washington has always said it wants to solve the standoff over Iran's controversial nuclear programme through diplomacy, it has never ruled out the option of military action against Iran to halt the atomic drive.

The exercises came as aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and its accompanying strike group joined the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Sea of Oman on Tuesday, in a move widely interpreted as a warning to to Tehran.

The Stennis "entered the US 5th Fleet area of operations... to conduct maritime security operations in regional waters, as well as to provide support for ground forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq," the US Fifth Fleet said from its base in Manama.

"We are ready, we are sustainable, we are flexible and we provide significant capabilities that contribute to regional peace and security," said the strike group's commander Rear Admiral Kevin Quinn.

The strike group, to which 6,500 sailors and marines have been assigned, also includes the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, guided-missile destroyers USS O'Kane and USS Preble, and fast combat-support ship USNS Bridge.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran over the Iranian nuclear programme are spiralling, with Iran set to ignore the latest UN deadline for it to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment activities.

"We are not planning for a war with Iran," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this month when asked about the deployment of the second aircraft carrier group to the region's waters.

"The purpose of that (deployment) is simply to underscore to our friends, as well as to our potential adversaries in the region, that the United States has considered the Persian Gulf and that whole area and stability in that area to be a vital American national interest," he said.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, a charge denied by Tehran which insists its atomic programme is solely aimed at generating energy.

Washington has also alleged that elements in Iran have smuggled sophisticated bombs into Iraq have killed at least 170 US and allied soldiers since June 2004. Tehran has rejected the allegations as "without foundation".

The Revolutionary Guards' war games opened on Monday with a flurry of missile test-firing which commanders said was aimed at strengthening the defensive capabilities of the force.

The IRNA agency said a total of 750 missiles and cannon munitions would be fired during the exercises, being staged less than two weeks after similar manoeuvres by the Guards' air force and naval units.

Source: RIA Novosti
Second US Aircraft Carrier Arrives Near Iran
Manama (AFP) Feb 20 - A second US aircraft carrier arrived in Middle Eastern waters on Tuesday as promised by US President George W. Bush in January amid an escalating crisis with nearby Iran over its nuclear programme.

The USS John C. Stennis and its accompanying strike group joined the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Sea of Oman but has not yet entered Gulf waters, the US Fifth Fleet said from its base in Manama.

The Stennis "entered the US 5th Fleet area of operations... to conduct maritime security operations in regional waters, as well as to provide support for ground forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq," said a US statement.

Bush on January 10 unveiled his new strategy for Iraq which included deploying a second aircraft carrier group and a Patriot anti-missile defence system "to reassure our friends and allies."

Washington accuses arch-foe Tehran of stoking the insurgency in Iraq and of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, charges denied by the Islamic republic.

Days after Bush's announcement, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the Stennis's redeployment was a signal to Iran, which, he said, has a "very negative" attitude.

Iran has also been carrying out military exercises in the region, including test-firing missiles and building drones that military commanders boasted could hit the US Navy.

The White House has repeatedly insisted it has no plans to strike Iran, and downplayed the significance of reinforcing the US military presence in the Gulf region.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticised the US military build-up in the Gulf, saying it did not fit in with Washington's Iraq strategy.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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South Korean Spy Agency Says North Korea Has Secret Nuke Program
Seoul (AFP) Feb 20, 2007
South Korea's intelligence chief was quoted as saying Tuesday that he believes North Korea has a secret uranium enrichment programme, in addition to its plutonium-based nuclear weapons project. "We believe (the programme) exists," Kim Man-Bok, the head of the National Intelligence Service, told a closed-door parliamentary committee, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.

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