China, Russia and Iran are planning a joint naval drill in the Sea of Oman and northern Indian Ocean "soon", a semi-official Iranian news outlet reported on Saturday, just days after the United States blamed Iran for a drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.
General Ghadir Nezami Pour, head of international affairs and defence diplomacy of Iran's General Staff of the Armed Forces, said the drill would take place in international waters, the Iran Press news agency reported.
"The exercises have different goals, including the exchange of tactical and military experiences, and sometimes they seek political goals which show a kind of convergence between participants," he was quoted as saying.
"Officials at the level of defence minister, chief of staff of the armed forces and commanders of the armed forces will come to Iran in the near future and these actions reflect Iran's active defence diplomacy," he was quoted.
The comments came in the wake of the September 14 missile strikes on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities.
Washington accused Tehran of masterminding the attacks - allegations that Iran denied.
Tehran warned that any military action by the United States or Saudi Arabia would result in "all-out war".
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initially condemned the attacks on the oil facilities as an "act of war", but later said the US sought a peaceful solution to the crisis.
On Friday, China's president, Xi Jinping, condemned the attacks during a phone conversation with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, adding that he hoped the incident would receive a full and fair investigation.
There were no reports of the joint drill plan in Chinese state media.
Analysts said the exercise plausibly would let China show support for Iran.
"The timing of the joint exercise might be a bit sensitive and some might take it as a show of China's support for Iran should there be any military conflicts between countries," Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said.
"But it might well be a regular military exchange between the countries if it is held in international waters and without targeting another country."
Ni Lexiong, a military specialist and professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said the drill was to send the message that China would side with Iran "in extreme scenarios".
"I don't see things will go that far, but the navy drill is to send the intimidating message," Ni said.
Two years ago China and Iran conducted a joint naval exercise near the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf after Washington accused Tehran of sending fast attack boats to harass US warships passing through the area.
Major General Mohammad Baqeri, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, was in Beijing for a three-day visit earlier this month and agreed that the two countries would have more visits with senior military officials and advance cooperation in training.
China still accounts for more than half of Iran's oil exports, according to the United States, complicating Washington's efforts to economically isolate Tehran in its "maximum pressure campaign".
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