Iran navy announces Indian Ocean drone division during Biden's Middle East visit

Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo

DUBAI, July 15 (Reuters) - Iran on Friday announced its first naval drone-carrying division in the Indian Ocean, state TV said, as U.S. President Joe Biden visits the Middle East to rally Arab support to counter Iranian threats.

The TV report did not say how many vessels, submarines or drones were included in the division, only that one ship carried 50 drones.

On Monday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington believed that Iran was preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred drones, including some that are weapons capable, and that Iran was preparing to train Russian forces to use them.

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On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian denied Sullivan’s statement in a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Iranian state media said.

"Amirabdollahian rejected the recent baseless accusations by (Sullivan) about Iranian drones being sent to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine, saying such claims coinciding with Biden's visit to the occupied Palestinian territories were in line with specific political goals," state media reported.

Iran has supplied unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to its allies in the Middle East.

Iranian TV said the drones that were displayed on Friday included the Pelican, Arash, Homa, Chamrosh, Jubin, Ababil-4 and Bavar-5.

On Thursday, Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed a joint pledge in Jerusalem to deny Iran nuclear arms, an apparent move towards accommodating Israel's calls for a "credible military threat" by world powers.

Asked by Israeli television this week whether his past statements that he would prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon meant he would use force against Iran, Biden replied: "If that was the last resort, yes.”

The United States and Israel are seeking to lay the groundwork for a security alliance with Arab states that would connect air defence systems, sources familiar with the plan have said. read more

“The Americans and Zionists (Israel) know very well the price of using the word 'force' against Iran,” Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman for the Iranian armed forces, was quoted as saying by Iranian media on Friday.

Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, saying that its nuclear programme is for solely peaceful purposes.

Biden's Mideast trip also includes Iran's regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

Tehran struck a deal with six major powers in 2015 under which it limited its uranium enrichment programme to make it harder to develop a nuclear weapon in return for relief from international sanctions.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump left the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start violating the nuclear limits about a year later.

Diplomatic efforts to resurrect the deal have so far failed. read more

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<a href="mailto:dubai.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com" target="_blank">dubai.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com</a>; Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie

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