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US says sending ‘strike group’ to Middle East as ‘clear message’ to Iran

A Boeing FA18 Superhornet on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in July 2011. (Photo by AP)

The United States is sending an aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East in a "clear and unmistakable" message to Iran, declared John Bolton, the hawkish US national security advisor.

“The United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region,” Bolton said in a Sunday statement.

The move, he said, is aimed at sending a “clear and unmistakable message” to Iran that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

Bolton said the decision was “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”

He said the US “is not seeking war” with Iran, but it is “fully prepared to respond to any attack”, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) or regular Iranian forces, Bolton said in a statement.

Bolton did not provide any further details, but a US official said the forces “have been ordered to the region as a deterrence to what has been seen as potential preparations by Iranian forces and its proxies that may indicate possible attacks on US forces in the region.”

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States was not expecting any imminent attack on US forces, Reuters reported.

The move by the US comes as it had earlier vowed to cut Iran’s oil exports down to zero, prompting Tehran to warn that it will not allow any other country to export oil through the Strait of Hormuz if Tehran cannot sell its crude.

Meanwhile, the deployment seems to be a “regularly scheduled” one by the US Navy, and Bolton has just tried to talk it up.

Back on April 8, the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (ABECSG) Public Affairs announced that the Strike Group has departed a naval station in Virginia on April 1 for “a regularly scheduled deployment.”

Therefore, what Bolton describes as a “response” to Iran’s warning does not seem to be genuine, as the ABECSG started its mission long before Iran’s warning.

Back on Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran does not seek to escalate tensions with the United States, but it will not let Washington disrupt the security of Persian Gulf, the “lifeline of Iran”.

“We have been very clear that we have no interest in escalation,” Zarif said in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera TV.

“We have been clear that the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz are our lifeline. We depend on them for our livelihood, and we want them safe, secure, and free for navigation of all countries, including Iran,” he said.

“As we have stated before, Iran won’t permit the US to threaten the Persian Gulf,” the foreign minister added.

Last Sunday, Iran’s top military commander said Iran wants the strait — through which nearly one-third of all oil traded by sea passes — to remain open and secure, warning that the country will not allow anyone to destabilize the waters.

“As oil and commodities of other countries are passing through the Strait of Hormuz, ours are also moving through it,” said Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri.

Iran “will definitely confront anyone who attempts to destabilize the Strait of Hormuz, and if our crude is not to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, others' [crude] will not pass either.”

The Iranian commander explained, “This does not mean [that we are going to] close the Strait of Hormuz. We do not intend to shut it unless the enemies’ hostile acts will leave us with no other option. We will be fully capable of closing it on that day.”

The US administration said in a statement on April 22 that buyers of Iranian oil must stop their purchases by May 1 or face sanctions. The move ended six months of waivers, which allowed Iran’s eight biggest buyers -- Turkey, China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan -- to continue importing limited volumes.

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