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Iran's navy to hold drill in international waters

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TEHRAN (AP): Iran's navy chief said on Thursday that his forces plan to hold a 10-day drill in international waters beyond the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf an exercise that could bring Iranian ships into proximity with US Navy vessels.

The drill will be Iran's latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its controversial nuclear programme, which the West fears is aimed at producing atomic weapons charges that Tehran denies, insisting the programme is for peaceful purposes only.

The Strait of Hormuz is of strategic significance as the passageway for about a third of the world's oil tanker traffic.

Beyond it lie vast bodies of water, including the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The US Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet is also active in the area, as are warships of several other countries that patrol for pirates there.

Both the US and Israel have not ruled out a military option against Iran over its nuclear programme, while Iranian hard-liners have come out with occasional threats that Tehran would seal off the key waterway if the US or Israel moved against the country's nuclear facilities.

Adm. Habibollah Sayyari told Iranian state TV that the maneuvers, dubbed Velayat-90, will begin on Saturday, He said they will be held in a 2,000-kilometer stretch of sea off the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and into the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea.

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