(www.ap.org) вЂ" Iran began its largest war games in almost a year Monday, just two days ahead of a U.N. Security Council deadline for Iran to halt uranium enrichment or face further economic sanctions.
The elite Revolutionary Guards began three days of ground maneuvers, state-run media reported Monday.
State television said the exercise is the biggest since last March and is taking place in 16 of Iran's 30 provinces. The broadcast said an estimated 60,000 troops are participating in the maneuvers, reports Trend.
"All weapons possessed by the Guards' ground force ... including new weapons, will be tested during the war games," Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, commander of the Guards' ground force, was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying Monday. The Revolutionary Guards is an elite military corps with more than 200,000 members and its own naval and air forces. It is independent of the regular armed forces and controlled directly by the supreme leader. It oversees vital interests such as oil and natural gas installations and the nation's missile arsenal.
In January, the Guards held three days of war games.
The Security Council approved a resolution against Iran on Dec. 23 that imposed economic sanctions and gave Iran 60 days to halt uranium enrichment, otherwise it will consider additional measures.
As tensions mount over Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, the United States and Iran have pursued an escalating series of military moves, with Washington sending more aircraft carrier battle groups to the region and Iran responding with more frequent maneuvers.
The United States and several of its Western allies believe that Iran is using its nuclear program to produce an atomic weapon вЂ" charges Iran denies, saying its aim is to generate electricity.
Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel. Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building an atomic bomb.