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Iran says warships sailing toward US to protest Persian Gulf build-up

By Agencies in Dubai and Teheran | China Daily | Updated: 2014-02-10 08:03

An Iranian naval officer said a number of warships have been ordered to approach US maritime borders as a response to Washington's stationing of US vessels in the Persian Gulf, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday.

"Iran's military fleet is approaching the United States maritime borders, and this move has a message," the agency quoted Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad as saying.

Haddad, commander of the Iranian navy's northern fleet, said the vessels had started their voyage toward the Atlantic Ocean via "waters near South Africa", Fars reported.

Fars said the plan was part of "Iran's response to Washington's beefed-up naval presence in the Persian Gulf".

The Fars report, which carried no details of the vessels, could not be confirmed independently.

In Washington, a US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, cast doubt on any claims that Iranian ships are approaching US maritime borders. But the official added that "ships are free to operate in international waters".

The United States and its allies regularly stage naval exercises in the Gulf, saying they want to ensure freedom of navigation in the waterway through which 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil exports pass.

US military facilities in the region include a base for its 5th Fleet in the Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain.

Iran sees the Gulf as its own backyard and believes it has a legitimate interest in expanding its influence there.

Iran says warships sailing toward US to protest Persian Gulf build-up

Iranian officials have often said Iran could block the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Gulf, if the country came under military attack over its disputed nuclear program, and the Western war games are seen in the region as an attempt to deter any such move.

Fars said the Iranian navy had been developing its presence in international waters since 2010, regularly launching vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian ships from Somali pirates operating in the area.

Meanwhile, Iran's supreme leader said on Saturday that the United States would overthrow the Iranian government if it could, adding Washington had a "controlling and meddlesome" attitude toward the Islamic republic, Iranian media reported.

In a speech to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran, added that officials seeking to revive the economy should not rely on an eventual lifting of sanctions but rather on homegrown innovation.

"US officials publicly say they do not seek regime change in Iran. That's a lie. They wouldn't hesitate a moment if they could do it," he was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.

Khamenei made no mention of talks between Iran and world powers intended to settle a decade-old dispute about Iran's nuclear program.

But he reiterated that in dealing with "enemies", Iran should be prepared to change tactics but not compromise on its main principles.

Khamenei said: "The solution to our economic problems is not looking out and having the sanctions lifted. ... My advice to our officials, as ever, is to rely on infinite indigenous potentials."

He added, "Our stance toward the United States is due to its controlling and meddlesome attitude."

Khamenei's comments about hostility reflect his longstanding animosity toward the United States, seen by Iran as its archenemy.

The United States and Iran have had no official ties since 1980, after Iranian students occupied the US embassy in Teheran, taking 52 diplomats hostage in protest against Washington's admission of the former Shah after he was toppled by the Islamic revolution.

Khamenei also called on critics of the interim nuclear deal achieved on Nov 24 in Geneva to be fair and give time to President Hassan Rouhani to pursue its policy of engagement with the outside world.

Khamenei spoke after days of public spats between Rouhani's government and hardline opponents and as Teheran held what it called a "satisfactory" round of talks with visiting UN inspectors.

Negotiations over a final comprehensive deal are to start Feb 18.

Iran said its nuclear program is peaceful and that it is Israel's assumed atomic weapons arsenal that threatens peace. Western powers suspect that Iran's program is a cover for pursuing nuclear weapons capability.

Reuters - ap

(China Daily 02/10/2014 page12)

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