TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's air force plans to hold a large-scale exercise to strengthen deterrence against any threats, a media report said, a week after the country test-fired missiles in war games criticised by the West.
Air force commander Ahmad Mighani said on Tuesday the combat and defensive drills will be held in the near future, Iran's state Press TV satellite station said on its website.
Iran is estimated to have 280 combat aircraft, including Russian-made MiG 29 aircraft, but serviceability may be 80 percent or lower.
Iran last week tested missiles in the oil-rich Gulf, including one it says could reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Middle East, and Washington reminded Tehran that it was ready to defend its regional allies.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that Iran has the ability to launch a ballistic missile capable of hitting sections of eastern and southern Europe.
U.S. leaders have not ruled out military options if diplomacy fails to assuage fears about Iran's nuclear activities, which the world's fourth-largest oil producer says is only to produce electricity.
Israel, long assumed to have its own atomic arsenal, has sworn to prevent Iran from emerging as a nuclear-armed power.
Iran has vowed to strike back at Tel Aviv, as well as U.S. interests and shipping, if it is attacked.
Some U.S. facilities across the Gulf are little more than 200 km (124 miles) from Iran's coast, with air and naval bases in nearby Arab states such as Qatar and Bahrain.
But analysts say Iran's real ability to respond to any attack could be with more unconventional tactics than a missile salvo, such as deploying small craft to hit oil tankers, or using allies in the area to strike at U.S. or Israeli interests.
In Washington on Tuesday, a senior U.S. official said the United States would send an envoy to talks in Geneva on Saturday between Iran and major powers over Tehran's nuclear programme.
U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns will join European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and envoys from China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany in the meeting with Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, the official said.
It follows Solana's trip to Tehran in June when he presented a package of economic and other incentives proposed by world powers to coax Iran to halt sensitive nuclear work the West fears is aimed making bombs, a charge Tehran denies.
Tehran has repeatedly refused to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, as demanded by the six world powers before formal negotiations can begin on the offer, which includes help to develop a civilian nuclear programme.
(Writing by Fredrik Dahl)
Click to view image: '202293-zzzSopwith_F1_Camel_2_USAF.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|