U.S. snubs Iran's warning on Persian Gulf

Jan. 4, 2012 at 3:15 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The Pentagon snubbed an Iranian warning not to return a U.S. aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, saying Washington will operate there as it has for decades.

The U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered supercarrier John C. Stennis will operate in the region to maintain security and stability, Pentagon spokesman George Little said after Iran's army commander in chief told Washington the carrier, which left the Persian Gulf through the strategic Strait of Hormuz last week, should not return.

"We recommend to the American warship that passed through the Strait of Hormuz and went to Gulf of Oman not to return to the Persian Gulf," Maj. Gen. Ataollah Salehi was quoted by Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not repeat its warning," Salehi said.

He did not say what Iran would do if the 100,000-ton carrier -- which leads a strike group of five warships -- re-entered the Persian Gulf.

Little rebuffed the warning, saying such "regularly scheduled movements," including through the Strait of Hormuz, would carry on unabated.

"Our interest is in safe and secure maritime passage for ships transiting the strait," Little said, adding the United States operates under international maritime conventions to maintain "a constant state of high vigilance to ensure the continued safe flow of maritime traffic in waterways critical to global commerce."

Roughly a fifth of all the crude oil traded worldwide passes through the narrow strait.

"Our transits of the Strait of Hormuz continue to be in compliance with international law, which guarantees our vessels the right of transit passage," he said.

"No one in this government seeks confrontation over the Strait of Hormuz," Little added. "It's important to lower the temperature."

He recommended Iran "devote its energy and resources to establishing friendly relations with countries in the Gulf region."

Iran's economy, battered by Western sanctions over its nuclear program -- which U.S. and European officials allege is to build nuclear weapons -- received another hit Saturday when U.S. President Barack signed a bill that could penalize buyers of Iranian oil.

Iran, the world's No. 3 energy exporter, relies on oil exports to finance as much as half its national budget.

It also insists its nuclear goal is to generate electricity without dipping into the oil supply Iran would prefer to sell abroad, and to provide fuel for medical reactors.

The European Union said it would consider imposing its own strict new sanctions against Iran, including an embargo on Iranian oil, this month. France Tuesday urged the EU to adopt the stricter sanctions.

EU countries receive 450,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil.

Oil prices remained near the highest price in almost eight months Wednesday after rising more than 4 percent Tuesday to settle on the New York Mercantile Exchange at $102.96 a barrel.

The Iranian currency, the rial, plunged to a record low against the U.S. dollar, reportedly triggering a run on banks by Iranians anxious to convert their savings into dollars before the exchange rate worsens.

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