US could send carrier into Strait of Hormuz despite Iran tensions, commander says
Vice Admiral Jim Malloy did not say whether he would send the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group into the vital strait, through which 20 percent of world oil passes.
"If I need to bring it inside the strait, I will do so," Malloy told Reuters in an interview by phone.
"I'm not restricted in any way, I'm not challenged in any way, to operate her anywhere in the Middle East," he said.
The strike group transited through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea on Thursday as a warning to Iran and is now under the US Vice Admiral's command.
Tehran has dismissed the Washington contention of a threat as "fake intelligence."
Tensions have been escalating between Iran and US since the Trump administration withdrew a year ago from a 2015 international nuclear – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) – with Tehran and began heightening sanctions in a bid to cripple Iran's economy.
|Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington since the Trump administration withdrew a year ago from a 2015 international nuclear deal|
The US said it accelerated the carrier's deployment and sent bombers to the Middle East after US intelligence indicated possible preparations by the Islamic Republic to launch attacks against US forces or interests.
Malloy, who is the commander of the US Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said the intelligence was linked "with actual activity that we observed."
"And that was certainly enough for me ... to say that we saw this as a threat," he added.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that one of the pieces of intelligence, whose details have not been communicated, signaled that Tehran had moved missiles onto boats.
One of the officials noted that the particular missile observed was potentially capable of launching from a small ship.
There is also growing concern about the threat from Iran-backed Shia militia in Iraq, which have long avoided any confrontation with US troops under the shared goal of defeating the so-called Islamic State (IS), noted the US officials.
Malloy, reiterated that some of the US concerns were about Tehran's missiles.
"It might be a new fielding of technology by Iran," Vice Admiral Malloy said, adding the weaponry "falls under the category of destabilizing and offensive in nature."
Bids to save the deal
In recent weeks, Trump's administration has re-imposed stringent sanctions on Iran and blacklisted the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group.
Amid these escalations, Tehran said it would stop abiding by parts of the nuclear agreement.
Iran's Supreme National Security Council on Wednesday sent a letter to the deal's other signatories – China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia – saying it had decided to suspend commitments it made under the deal, some immediately and some after 60 days, if no progress was made on its economy.
Britain, France and Germany tried to save the accord with a trade mechanism meant to bypass reimposed US sanctions, but their attempt was dismissed by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a "bitter joke".
European powers confirmed on Thursday that they still backed the nuclear deal with Iran, but rejected any "ultimatums" from Tehran to keep it alive.
"We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran's compliance on the basis of Iran's performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments" under a 2015 deal, the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany said in a statement.
The European officials said Iran must at the same time "implement its commitments under the JCPoA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps".
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