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Iran''s elite Revolutionary Guard began large-scale war games in the Persian Gulf and the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, state television reported.
Iran has been holding military manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz annually since 2006 to show off its military capabilities.
The last four military exercises were held in the summer, but there has been no official explanation as to why they were brought forward this year.
The war games have routinely heightened tension in the region, but they have more recently taken on added significance as the standoff between the West and Tehran over Iran''s nuclear programme grows deeper.
The West suspects the programme conceals a nuclear arms production drive - a charge that Iran denies.
Iran has in the past signalled that it would close the Strait of Hormuz if attacked by the West - something that makes holding war games there a particularly sensitive move.
Some 40 percent of the world''s oil and energy supplies pass through the narrow waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
In Washington, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell played down the significance of the manoeuvres, saying that they didn''t seem out of the ordinary from what Iran''s military had done in the past.
Asked on Wednesday - the day the manoeuvres were announced in Tehran - what concerns he had about the Iranian war games, Morrell said: "I haven''t heard any particular concerns."
The Iranian television report said naval, air and ground units from the Guard were participating in the three-day games codenamed "The Great Prophet".
It said the war games would witness the commissioning of what it described as an "ultra-speed" vessel called "Ya Mahdi", while a total of 313 speedboats with the capability of firing rockets and missiles would also take part.
On Wednesday, Iranian Defence Minister General Ahmad Vahidi said "new weapons" would be test-fired in the war games, but did not give any details.
Morrell said on Wednesday that Tehran often made exaggerated claims about its weapons testing.
Tehran was angered by US President Barack Obama''s announcement this month of a new US nuclear policy in which he pledged America would not use atomic weapons against nations that don''t have them.
Iran and North Korea were pointedly excluded from the non-use pledge, and Iranian leaders took that as an implicit threat.
Iran''s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday that the US "nuclear threat" was a "stigma in the US political history," saying Iranians would not allow the US to dominate the country.
Iran''s arch-enemy, Israel, has not ruled out military action against Iran''s nuclear facilities.
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Geoff Morrell , Ahmad Vahidi , Barack Obama , Ali Khamenei