Iran, U.S. Flex Military Muscles, Amid Renewal of Nuclear Talks

Iran launches long-range missiles during military drill, U.S. officials tell New York Times Washington is moving forces into Person Gulf.

On the morning of the renewal of nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers, Iran's Revolutionary Guards carried out an extensive missile exercise.

Iranian media outlets reported Tuesday morning that Revolutionary Guard units had simultaneously launched dozens of short, medium and long-range missiles from a number of bases around the country, including missiles capable of reaching Israel.

Iranian media reported that the exercise was conducted against the backdrop of Israeli and American threats to attack the country's nuclear facilities.

Missiles were launched against a model of an American military base, similar to U.S. bases in the Gulf, which was erected especially for the exercise in Iran's northern Semnan Desert. General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' aerospace division, said on Sunday that the exercise was meant to test the precision and effectiveness of the warheads.

The three-day exercise, called The Great Prophet 7, reached its peak just as the latest round of talks between Iran and the six world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the U.K. and Germany – was scheduled to open in Istanbul.

Israel believes the exercise is meant to send a message to the six powers that Iran is not afraid of failure of the diplomatic channel and will respond forcefully to any military move against it. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday that he believes the six powers are not interested in the failure of talks, as they are aware of the implications of a military confrontation with Iran.

Meanwhile, a New York Times report published on Tuesday cited U.S. defense officials as saying that America forces have been quietly introduced into the Persian Gulf in an attempt to deter Iran from blocking the Strait of Hormuz and to increase strike capability in case the nuclear standoff with Iran escalates to a military confrontation.

According to the report, the deployments were meant to bolster the U.S. military presence in the region while reassuring Israel that the Iranian nuclear issue is being handled.

The report quoted an unnamed "senior Defense Department official" who said, "The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ Don’t even think about sending your fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping. We’ll put them on the bottom of the gulf.”

Expectations are low, as new talks begin

The talks in Istanbul will be conducted by low-ranking experts and expectations that a breakthrough will be reached are extremely low.

Senior Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote Tuesday that the prevailing view in the U.S. and in Israel is that the current round of talks will be the last, and will end without any results. He added that neither Israel nor the U.S. rule out the possibility that the next stage of negotiations will be conducted as direct, secret talks between Iran and the U.S.

The office of UN Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton, who is managing the negotiations on behalf of the six powers, said that the aim of the meeting in Istanbul is to provide Iran with additional details regarding a "package deal" which the powers offered Iran in recent talks in Baghdad and Moscow. An additional goal is to receive details from Iran regarding a counteroffer it made in Moscow.

 Ashton said Monday that she hoped Iran would take advantage of the opportunity and display willingness to take essential steps and respond to the concerns of the international community regarding its nuclear program.