The Pentagon said on Tuesday it would keep sending U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups into the Arab Gulf, despite a threat by Iran’s military to take action.
“The deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.
“These carrier strike group deployments are necessary to maintain the continuity and operational support to ongoing missions.”
But the Pentagon said it was not seeking confrontation with the Islamic Republic over the Strait of Hormuz, adding that it was important to “lower temperature.”
“Our interest is in safe and secure maritime passage for ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz. That is our desire,” said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
“No one in this government seeks confrontation over the Strait of Hormuz. It is important to lower the temperature.”
Iran’s army chief had told the United States that a U.S. aircraft carrier which left the area because of Iranian naval exercises should not return to the Gulf, the state news agency reported on Tuesday as France called on Europe to agree the sanctions against Iran this month.
“Iran will not repeat its warning ... the enemy’s carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf,” Ataollah Salehi told IRNA.
“I advise, recommend and warn them (the Americans) over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once,” Fars quoted Salehi as saying.
Meanwhile, France wants its European partners to agree by end-January on sanctions on Iran similar to those envisaged by the United, States, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday as Russia said that Iran has no long-range missiles.
“France ... wants sanctions toughened and the president (Nicolas Sarkozy) has made two concrete proposals on that front -- the first being the freezing of Iranian central bank assets, a tough measure, and the second an embargo on Iranian oil exports,” Juppe told i>tele, a French news TV channel.
“Iran is pursuing the development of its nuclear arms, I have no doubt about it. The last report by the International Atomic Energy Agency is quite explicit on this point,” he said.
Washington is already in the process of imposing such sanctions, he said. “We want the Europeans to take a similar step by Jan. 30 to show our determination,” he said, according to Reuters.
Iran, which denies Western accusations that it is trying to build atomic bombs, said on Monday that it had test fired two long-range missiles, flexing its military muscle in the face of mounting Western pressure over its nuclear program.
It made the announcement at the climax of 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf, during which Tehran warned it could shut the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's traded oil is shipped, if sanctions were imposed on its crude exports.
EU foreign ministers are due to meet on Jan. 30.
Meanwhile, a Russian defense official said Tuesday that Iran has no long-range missiles, according to AFP.
It was Moscow’s first response to the series of tests conducted by Tehran near the vital Strait of Hormuz oil supply route.
“Iran does not have the technology to create intermediate or long-range inter-continental ballistic missiles,” defense ministry spokesman Vadim Koval told the Interfax news agency.
“And it will not get such missiles any time soon,” he added.
Russia has relatively close ties with Iran and built its first nuclear power station in the southern city of Bushehr. Moscow has also delivered the nuclear fuel for the reactor.
Moscow has echoed Western concerns about the nature of the Iranian nuclear program but has stopped short of publicly accusing Tehran of seeking atomic weapons and always said that the standoff should be solved by diplomacy.