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Iran says its military might help regional security

TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday a strong Iranian military would help preserve stability in the Middle East, as Iran marked its armed forces’ day with a parade that appeared more muted than in the past.

Ahmadinejad gave a relatively low-key speech and there was little sign of the anti-Western banners and slogans normally seen at the annual event.

U.S. President Barack Obama has offered a new beginning of diplomatic engagement with Iran if Tehran “unclenches its fist.”

But while Washington favours negotiations to curb Iran’s disputed nuclear activities, the advent of a rightist government in Israel has increased international concern that it could go it alone with preventive strikes against Iranian atom sites.

Iran rejects Western accusations that its nuclear program is aimed at making bombs. It has vowed to retaliate for any attack with missile strikes against Israel and U.S. Gulf assets.

“The power of the Iranian armed forces is at the service of the nations ... and will help to preserve the region’s security and stability,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech at the parade outside Tehran.

Troops marched in front of the podium where he stood with army officers. Some had uniforms in green, white or red -- the colors of Iran’s flag. Others wore combat gear.

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Helicopters flew overhead and parachutists dropped down over the parade area near the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic state.


Missiles, armoured personnel carriers, unmanned surveillance aircraft and small submarines with men wearing aqua-lungs standing next to them were also part of the parade.

“The enemies’ courage to pose a threat against the Iranian nation has been eliminated permanently,” Ahmadinejad said.

State television said the surface-to-surface Zelzal missile was among military hardware displayed.

But Iran did not show off its longest-range missile, the Shahab-3, which it says can hit targets 2,000 km (1,250 miles) away, putting Israel or U.S. bases in the Gulf within range.

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A major air show with jet fighters was canceled due to low visibility caused by dust, media said.

Earlier this month, the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said they would ask European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row.

Iran favours dialogue and will soon give its response to the offer of talks, Ahmadinejad said in remarks published Friday.

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Tehran says it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity so that it can export more of its gas and oil.

Israel, widely believed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, has described Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to its existence. Although it says it wants a diplomatic solution, Washington has also not ruled out military action.

Military analysts say the United States could unleash vastly superior firepower against Iran, but that Tehran could hit back against Washington’s forces in Iraq and by disrupting oil supplies vital to the world economy.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Janet Lawrence