The Iranian Air Force was set to launch large-scale drills Friday, as part of “annual exercises aimed at testing indigenous air defense systems, improving the units’ combat readiness and displaying the country’s military might and achievement,” according to a report in Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.
The drills involve “different types of interceptor fighters, bomber fighters, transport aircraft and reconnaissance planes,” the air force’s deputy commander, Brig.-Gen. Alireza Barkhor, told Fars.
The exercises “seek to send a message of peace, friendship and security to the regional countries,” he added.
The drills came just as expert-level representatives from Iran and the P5+1 world powers were expected to resume nuclear talks in Geneva on Friday, for a second day of negotiations.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced new sanctions legislation that the Iranians had warned could “kill” its interim nuclear agreement with the six world powers reached last month in the Swiss capital.
The bill, which came as talks over the implementation of the interim agreement resumed after a nearly week-long hiatus, would impose sanctions that will come into effect should Iran violate the interim deal or fail to reach a final agreement.
The Obama administration has campaigned heavily against such legislation, arguing that it would make a comprehensive deal with Tehran more difficult to achieve.
The White House on Thursday vowed to veto the legislation if it passes. Speaking an hour after the senators announced the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, White House spokesman Jay Carney slammed the legislation, describing it as potentially “damaging and destructive to the diplomatic effort.”
Carney implied that lawmakers were out of step with American voters in proposing legislation that, he claimed, “will undermine our efforts to reach a diplomatic solution and greatly increase the chances for military action.
“I think that there is overwhelming support in the country and in this congress for a diplomatic resolution to this conflict,” added Carney.
Characterizing the legislation as “unnecessary,” he said that “if it passed, the president would veto it.”
Earlier Thursday, days after the Iranian government withdrew from the expert-level talks over the recent nuclear deal in protest at continued US punitive measures, the sides returned to the table in a bid to get the negotiations back on track.
The talks, brokered by representatives of the United States, China, Britain, France, Russia and Germany, revolve around the on-the-ground implementation of the guidelines established in the November 24 interim agreement.
While the talks were scheduled for December 19-20, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi told Fars that the meetings will continue through Saturday and Sunday if necessary.
The Iranian officials last met with representatives from the six world powers on December 12 in Vienna. However, following a decision by the US government to blacklist 19 companies for evading Iranian sanctions, the Iranian delegation cut the meetings short and flew back to Iran a day before negotiations were set to end, stating that the US move violated the interim agreement.
Days later, top Iranian officials reiterated their commitment to the diplomatic process.
“The process has been derailed, the process has not died,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS News on Sunday. “We are trying to put it back and to correct the path, and continue the negotiations, because I believe there is a lot at stake for everybody.”
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also quoted Tuesday saying that Iran was ready for a final agreement.
Under the interim agreement signed in Geneva last month, the world powers must ease sanctions against Iran while Iran is required to scale back its nuclear program over the course of six months. While the deal was heavily criticized by Israeli officials, the US and the additional world powers remain optimistic the interim deal will pave the way for a permanent agreement with the Iranian regime.