Reuters: Twenty five nations took part in a U.S.-led naval exercise on Monday in waters not far from Iran aimed at training forces to block the transport of weapons of mass destruction and related equipment. By Mohammed Abbas
ABOARD RFA BRAMBLELEAF (Reuters) – Twenty five nations took part in a U.S.-led naval exercise on Monday in waters not far from Iran aimed at training forces to block the transport of weapons of mass destruction and related equipment.
The exercise comes as tensions rise between Iran and the West over its nuclear program, which critics say has as its goal the production of a nuclear bomb. Iran says it is designed to meet energy needs.
It also comes three weeks after North Korea conducted a nuclear test and amid increased fears that a proliferation of nuclear technology could make it easier for terrorists to get their hands on an atomic bomb or its components.
“The message is clear: ‘responsible countries will not stand aside as proliferators circumvent their international obligations’,” U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain William Monroe told reporters at a Bahrain naval facility after the drill.
“Responsible countries will not hesitate to deny proliferators safe haven,” Monroe said, adding that the exercise had been planned several months ago.
Italy, the United States, Australia, Britain, France and Bahrain deployed ships and personnel to the drill, part of the U.S. Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Other countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Pakistan and South Korea, sent observers.
Named “Leading Edge”, the drill was the first such exercise to take place in the Gulf, and Bahrain was the only Gulf Arab state to take an active role. Bahrain is home the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Iran said it was unconcerned about the exercise but warned those participating not to destabilize the region.
“Given the amicable ties among countries of the region and the powerful presence of … Iran as standard bearer of peace, justice and security, there is no room for any concern,” the official IRNA news agency quoted government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham as saying.
In the exercise, Bahraini and Italian marines searched a British vessel carrying mock nuclear detonators about 20 miles away from Iranian waters in the Gulf.
Italian and Bahraini marines sped through the water in small inflatable bloats and boarded a British vessel, the RFA Brambleleaf, which was designated the suspect ship.
Marines armed with machine guns guarded the crew as another team searched the vessel for the detonators.
Some countries took part in planning the operation, whereby various intelligence agencies worked on a scenario in which a vessel en-route to the UAE from Europe was suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction.
The Bahraini, Qatari and UAE involvement in the U.S. initiative flies against Iran’s call on Sunday for regional security to be maintained by countries in the region.
Several Middle Eastern countries have endorsed PSI principles this year after visits by U.S. officials to the region were stepped up, a State Department official who declined to be identified said.
Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states have traditionally been wary of Shi’ite Muslim Iran’s intentions in the region.
Leading Edge was the 25th PSI exercise since President Bush launched the initiative in 2003. Eighty countries have endorsed PSI principles.