Tehran holds war drill over N-site

February 20, 2012 - 10:47:35 pm

TEHRAN: Iran deployed warplanes and missiles yesterday in an “exercise” to protect nuclear sites threatened by possible Israeli attacks and warned it could cut oil exports to more EU nations unless sanctions were lifted.

The stance marked a hardening of the Islamic republic’s defiance in an international standoff over its nuclear programme — and suggested it was readying for any eventual confrontation.

The moves were announced the same day as officials from the UN nuclear watchdog agency arrived in Tehran for a second round of talks they said were focused on “the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Iran, while holding out hope of reviving collapsed negotiations with world powers, has underlined it will not give up its nuclear ambitions, which it insists are purely peaceful.

Much of the West and Israel, though, fear Iran’s activities include research for atomic weapons.

The United States and Europe have ramped up economic sanctions against Iran’s vital oil sector, while Israel has fuelled speculation it could be on the brink of carrying out air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iran’s military said in a statement yesterday that it has launched four days of manoeuvres in the south of the country aimed at boosting anti-air defences to protect nuclear sites.

Missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, radars and warplanes were being deployed in the exercise it dubbed “Sarollah”.

“These manoeuvres aim to reinforce the coordination between the military and the Revolutionary Guards for a total coverage of the country’s sensitive facilities, especially nuclear sites,” the statement said.

At the same time, the deputy oil minister, who also runs the National Iranian Oil Company, warned that a cut in Iranian oil exports announced on Sunday against France and Britain could be expanded to other EU nations.

“Certainly if the hostile actions of some European countries continue, the export of oil to these countries will be cut,” said Ahmad Qalebani, pointing the finger at Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands, according to a Mehr news agency report.

Iran exports about 20 percent of its crude — some 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) — to the European Union, most of which goes to Italy, Spain and Greece.