Iran threatens swift retaliation on U.S. bases during military drill


Iran declared Wednesday that it can destroy nearby U.S. military bases and strike Israel within minutes of an attack on the Islamic republic, reflecting tensions over Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

The veiled threat came during a military drill that has included the firing of ballistic missiles. The elite Revolutionary Guards, conducting the war games in Iran’s central desert, said that the missiles were aimed at mock-ups of foreign military bases.

Israel and the U.S. have hinted at the possibility of military strikes against Iran if sanctions and diplomacy do not rein in Iran's nuclear development program. The West suspects Iran may be aiming to build nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes.

The semi official Fars news agency quoted Gen. Ami Ali Hajizadeh of the Revolutionary Guards as saying U.S. bases are in range of Iran’s missiles and could be hit in retaliatory strikes. He referred to Israel as “occupied territories.”

“Measures have been taken so that we could destroy all these bases in the early minutes of an attack,” said Hajizadeh, chief of the Guards’ air-space division.

No comment from Israel

Israeli officials refused to comment. There was no immediate comment from Washington.

Hajizadeh said the Guards also successfully test fired an anti-ship missile that could sink U.S. warships in the Gulf. Gen. Hajizadeh told state TV that the shore-to-sea ballistic missile, called “Persian Gulf,” has a range of 300 kilometers (180 miles).

State TV showed video of the launching of a white missile that hit a huge target in Gulf waters.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, an island in the Gulf about 200 kilometers (120 miles) from Iran, well within range of Iranian missiles.

On Tuesday Iran said it launched a variety of missiles during the desert drill, including Shahab-3 missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) that could reach Israel and southern Europe.

Russia sees progress after Iran talks

Meanwhile, Russia on Wednesday said “certain progress” had been reached at expert-level talks on Iran’s nuclear program despite the Islamic Republic’s tough terms for scaling back its enrichment activities.

Tuesday’s meeting in Istanbul was held after a fourth round of talks between top negotiators on the escalating crisis held in Moscow last month ended in stalemate.

The experts agreed in Istanbul to go ahead with a more senior meeting between EU and Iranian diplomats at a future but still unspecified date.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was satisfied with the outcome despite the broad disagreements that remained.

“I cannot say that we reached some sort of breakthrough or achieved decisive progress,” Russia’s chief negotiator on the standoff told Interfax.
“But we are not losing heart or think that the Istanbul meeting of experts was a failure,” Ryabkov added.

“On the contrary, there are grounds to speak of certain progress.”

A statement from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton -- head negotiator for the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany who make up the so-called P5+1 group -- said simply that talks focused on “technical subjects.”

It said the two sides continued to discuss the world powers’ earlier call for Iran to immediately stop enriching uranium to the high level of 20 percent in exchange for some forms of economic assistance.

Iran has instead sought recognition of its formal right to enrich uranium -- something that contradict current U.N. resolutions -- and sought an end to oil sanctions that have seen its vital exports nearly halve so far this year.

Ryabkov said Moscow was willing to support its close trade and military partner’s right to enrich uranium as long as the Islamic Republic subjected its nuclear program to strict international controls.

“The right to enrich and recognition of this right must come in exchange for the Iranian unclear program coming under comprehensive international control,” Ryabkov said.