TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on Saturday it considered the deployment of U.S. warships to the Gulf part of their routine activity, apparently backing away from previous warnings to Washington not to enter the area.
“U.S. warships and military forces have been in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East region for many years and their decision in relation to the despatch of a new warship is not a new issue and it should be interpreted as part of their permanent presence,” IRGC Deputy Commander Hossein Salami told the official IRNA news agency.
The comment may be seen as an effort to reduce tensions that rose sharply this month when Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz – the vital shipping lane for oil shipments out of the Gulf – if new sanctions hit its crude exports.
Crude prices have spiked several times on fear of military conflict and uncertainty about the effect of sanctions on the global oil market.
There has been no U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf since the USS John C. Stennis left at the end of December. On January 3, Iran told the Stennis not to return – an order interpreted by some observers in Iran and Washington as a blanket threat to any U.S. carriers.
“I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf,” Iran’s army chief, Major General Ataollah Salehi, said at the time. “We are not in the habit of warning more than once.”
Washington has said it does not expect any problems the next time its ships enter the Gulf. The Pentagon, citing operational security, will not say when the next carrier will pass through the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran also announced it planned to hold naval exercises in the strait and the Gulf very soon. Salami told IRNA these would go ahead as planned in the Iranian month of Bahman which runs from January 21 to February 19.