A senior Iranian military commander signaled the Islamic Republic might launch a pre-emptive strike against its "enemies" if the nation's leaders felt an attack on Iran was imminent, providing another example of ever-escalating tensions between Tehran and the West over its nuclear program.
In a clear shot across the bow, the deputy head of Iran's armed forces, Mohammad Hejazi, told state media on Tuesday: "Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran's national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions," according to the Reuters news agency.
Hejazi's comments come as another Iranian official said that a U.N. team visiting Iran has no plans to inspect the country's nuclear facilities and will only hold talks with officials in Tehran.
The remarks by Ramin Mehmanparast cast doubt on how much the U.N. inspectors would be able to gauge whether Iran is moving ahead with its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The two-day visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency team, which started Monday, is the second in less than a month amid growing concerns over alleged Iranian weapons experiments.
Iran denies charges by the West that it seeks atomic weapons, insisting its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation.
Mehmanparast said the visiting IAEA team was made up of experts, not inspectors. He told reporters that the IAEA team was holding discussions Tuesday in Tehran to prepare the ground for future cooperation between Iran and the U.N. watchdog. He said this cooperation is at its "best" level.
"The titles of the members of the visiting delegation is not inspectors. This is an expert delegation. The purpose of visit is not inspection," said Mehmanparast. "The aim is to negotiate about cooperation between Iran and the agency and to set a framework for a continuation of the talks."
Visits to individual Iranian nuclear sites were also not part of the IAEA earlier visit three weeks ago.
But on Monday, Iranian state radio said the U.N. team had asked to visit the Parchin military complex outside Tehran, a known conventional arms facility that has been suspected as a secret weapons-making location and also to meet Iranian nuclear scientists involved in the country's controversial program
"Iran's cooperation with the (IAEA) agency continues and is at its best level," added Mehmanparast.
The IAEA visit comes as Iran announced air defense war games to practice protecting nuclear and other sensitive sites, the latest in a series of military maneuvers viewed as a message to the West that Iran is prepared both to defend itself against an armed strike and to retaliate.
The U.S. and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran's nuclear program, though top American officials haveon Iran, fearing the resulting instability in the region could outweigh an attempt to disable Iran's nuclear facilities.
The official news agency IRNA said the four-day air defense war games, dubbed "Sarallah," or "God's Revenge," were taking place in the south of the country and involve anti-aircraft batteries, radar, and warplanes. The drill will be held over 73,000 square miles near the port of Bushehr, the site of Iran's lone nuclear power plant.
Iran has held multiple air, land, and sea maneuvers in recent months as the tensions increase.