A sudden White House announcement that a U.S. aircraft carrier and a bomber wing would be deployed in the Persian Gulf to counter Iran comes just days ahead of the anniversary of President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw America from Tehran's nuclear deal.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to give a speech today on the anniversary to discuss the next steps Tehran will take in confronting the U.S. Officials in the Islamic Republic previously warned that Iran might increase its uranium enrichment, potentially pulling away from a deal it has sought to salvage for months.
Iran said last month it was prepared for a U.S. decision to end waivers granted to some buyers of Iranian oil, as the elite Revolutionary Guards repeated their threat to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if Tehran was barred from using it. Around 30 percent of the world's seaborne oil exports are shipped through the strait.
Iran's top security body dismissed as "psychological warfare" the U.S. announcement, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported yesterday. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday that the U.S. was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East. "Bolton's statement is a clumsy use of a burnt-out happening for psychological warfare," Tasnim quoted Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, as saying. Khosravi said the carrier had arrived in the Mediterranean weeks ago.
The USS Abraham Lincoln had been in the Mediterranean Sea conducting operations alongside the USS John C. Stennis, another aircraft carrier that has twice been in the Persian Gulf in recent months. However, American military officials have stopped the near-continuous presence of aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, a pattern set following the 1991 Gulf War. American air bases spanning the region can scramble fighter jets and unmanned drones, lessening the necessity of an aircraft carrier, as U.S. officials also worry about China and Russia.
Already in the Persian Gulf is a group of U.S. Navy warships led by the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship carrying troops from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. The Kearsarge also carries AV-8B Harrier fighter jets, MH-60 helicopters and MV-22 Osprey airplanes. Across the wider 5th Fleet, there were 17 warships deployed, according to the most recent count by the U.S. Naval Institute, which tracks deployments around the world.
The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog says Iran has continued to comply with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw it limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But American sanctions have wreaked havoc on Iran's already anemic economy, while help promised by European partners in the deal haven't alleviated the pain. The U.S. last week stopped issuing waivers for countries importing Iranian crude oil, a crucial source of cash for Iran's government. The U.S. administration also blacklisted Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. U.S.-Iranian tensions escalated further after Washington acted on Friday to force Tehran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant. Washington's step intensified a campaign aimed at halting Tehran's ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.
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