Iranian media on Sunday reported Tehran will conduct a large-scale defensive military exercise next month, coinciding with what government officials now say is a deadline for the West to respond to its counteroffer to a nuclear-fuel deal.
The commander of Iran's ground forces, Brig. Gen. Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan, said the drill will be conducted by Iran's army, in conjunction with some units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to improve "defensive capabilities," Press TV, the English-language, state-run media outlet reported.
The report follows comments by Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Saturday, challenging Western nations to decide by the end of the month on counterproposals Tehran has floated to an internationally brokered nuclear-fuel deal. In the counterproposals, Iran has said it would agree to swap the bulk of its low-enriched uranium for higher enriched uranium, but in small batches and on Iranian soil.
Iranian officials also have named Turkey as a possible venue to swap the fuel. Iran has separately suggested it would be willing to buy enriched uranium from a third party.
The U.S. and Western allies have dismissed the counterproposals outright. In autumn, negotiators from Iran, the U.S., France, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency hammered out a proposed deal in which Iran would agree to ship out the bulk of its uranium to Russia, where it would be enriched and shipped back for use in a medical-research reactor. But Iranian officials refused to endorse the deal, despite a U.S.-imposed year-end deadline for Tehran to show progress in talks.
A European diplomat said that on Monday, the diplomatic year begins with a "review of measures the international community can use to increase its pressure on Iran" to begin serious negotiations.