With region on edge, Iran kicks off annual air defense drill

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Tuesday kicked off a massive, two-day air defense drill in the country’s sprawling central desert, state TV reported, the latest show of force by the Islamic Republic.

The report said both the army and the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard were taking part in the annual maneuvers dubbed “Velayat.” It said elite air force and air defense units as well as the Guard’s airspace division would participate.

Iran regularly holds such drills and says they assess the troops’ combat readiness and demonstrate the nation’s military capabilities.

Earlier in October, Iran held a drill near its border with Azerbaijan, putting on a display of military capabilities near a neighbor it is increasingly skeptical of for its ties to the West and Israel. Azerbaijan and Israel have strengthened their military alliance in recent months, with Israeli-supplied high-tech drones helping Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh last year.

The region remains on edge over Iran’s escalating nuclear program. Talks in Vienna to revive Tehran’s now-tattered 2015 accord with world powers have stalled since June, with no date set for their resumption.

The 2015 nuclear deal saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord, raising tensions across the wider Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.

With Vienna talks stalled, Iran has breached limits set by the nuclear deal and is enriching small amounts of uranium to its closest-ever levels to weapons-grade purity as its stockpile continues to grow. Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

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