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Iran says it will stage naval exercises with Oman

TEHRAN, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Iran said it was preparing for joint naval exercises with Oman as part of its efforts to improve its relations with Gulf Arab countries.

``Reciprocal respect can be forged among Persian Gulf countries through such exercises,'' the English-language Iran Daily quoted navy chief Admiral Abbas Mohtaj as saying.

News of the planned exercise could upset the United Arab Emirates which is locked in a bitter dispute with Iran over the sovereignty of three small but strategically placed islands in a key Gulf shipping channel.

Earlier this year, the UAE threatened to leave the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Oman is a member, because it was unhappy about the pace of rapprochement between non-Arab Iran and the Gulf Arabs.

Mohtaj said Iran and Oman had until now been only observing each other's military exercises. The two countries agreed last year to military and logistical cooperation, including joint military exercises.

The Islamic republic, keen on forging regional alliance to offset foreign presence in the Gulf, has tried for a decade to conduct joint military exercises with American-allied Gulf Arab states.

But reaction from conservative Gulf monarchies have generally been lukewarm amid lingering suspicion against the Islamic republic. Conservative Arab monarchies and their Western allies are wary of war games Iranian forces regularly stage in the Gulf and Oman Sea.

But Mohtaj described such concerns as ``inappropriate.''

``The sensitivity of regional countries towards Iranian war games is an inappropriate reaction...especially when these same countries stage manoeuvres with extra-territorial countries,'' he said.

``Each and every military (Iranian) exercise in the Persian Gulf is useful to ensure regional peace and stability,'' he added.


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