Iran says plans new war games, photographed U.S. ship

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran announced new naval war games on Tuesday and revealed that one of its military aircraft had photographed a U.S. aircraft carrier, a day after Washington said Tehran was challenging its sea power in the Middle East.

The plane flew over the carrier in the Sea of Oman and took pictures of it, a senior Iranian commander was quoted as saying on Tuesday. Navy commander Habibollah Sayari did not say when the incident took place, but suggested that the U.S. ship’s crew had objected to the Iranian action.

Iran also announced that it would start eight days of war games in the Gulf and the Sea of Oman on Wednesday.

The planned naval maneuvers coincide with rising tension between Iran and the West, which says Tehran’s nuclear work is aimed at making bombs. Iran denies this.

Sayari spoke a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Iran was challenging U.S. naval power in the Middle East with an array of offensive and defensive weapons.

Fars, a semi-official Iranian news agency, quoted Sayari as saying an Iranian S-27 aircraft had photographed the U.S. ship and that it was the navy’s “duty and right” to identify foreign vessels in the area.

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“Despite the objection of this (U.S.) vessel, we reiterate firmly that doing this is our definite right,” he said.

Al Alam, Iran’s Arabic-language satellite television station, quoted him as saying the scheduled war games would display the Iranian navy’s defense capability.

They would take place less than two weeks after Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards staged four days of maneuvers in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, a waterway crucial for global oil supplies.

Last month, the Pentagon said U.S. military action against Iran remained an option even as Washington pursues diplomacy and sanctions to halt the country’s atomic activities.

Iran often announces advances in its military capabilities and tests weaponry in an apparent attempt to show its readiness for any strikes by Israel or the United States.

In exercises held in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz between April 22 and 25, official media said the Guards tested missiles and a new speedboat capable of destroying enemy ships.

The United States is pushing for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt sensitive nuclear activities as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

Israel, widely believed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, has described Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to its existence and has not ruled out military action.

Iran, a predominantly Shi’ite Muslim state, has said it would respond to any attack by targeting U.S. interests in the region and Israel, as well as closing the Strait of Hormuz.

About 40 percent of the world’s traded oil leaves the Gulf region through the strategic narrows.

Reporting by Ramin Mostafavi and Parisa Hafezi in Tehran; writing and additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Dubai; editing by David Stamp