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US says monitoring Iran’s plans to send warships to Panama Canal

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks during a press briefing in Washington, DC, the United States. (Photo by AP)

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price says Washington is closely monitoring Iran’s plans to deploy naval forces to the strategic Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. 

Iranian Navy chief Rear Admiral Shahram Irani said at the first national conference on maritime civilization in the southeastern port city of Konarak on Wednesday that his forces will establish a presence in the Panama Canal later this year, marking the first time Iran's military has entered the Pacific Ocean.

“We are aware of this claim by Iran’s navy. We continue to monitor Iran’s attempts or at least its statements of its intent to develop a military presence in the Western Hemisphere,” Price said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Irani stated that Iranian naval forces have so far been deployed to almost all strategic straits throughout the globe, except for two.

The senior commander noted that Iranian Navy forces will sail into one of those remaining straits this year, while plans are being drawn up for the presence of the Iranian units in the Panama Canal.

“My comrades are about to approach the coasts of the Americas and showcase signs of Iran’s [military] prowess. Iranian naval forces have been deployed for the time to the Pacific Ocean. Even though Australia and France made some threats during that missions and sought to renege on the regulations that they themselves had introduced on sailing past their coasts, Iranian forces stood firmly in the face of such threats and responded to them mightily,” the Iranian Navy commander said.

Iran-Russia military cooperation

Elsewhere in his remarks on Thursday, Price touched down upon military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow, and repeated allegations that Iran has supplied Russia with arms for use in the Ukraine war.

“Our overarching assessment has not changed. Iran is and remains Russia’s most important source of security assistance. This is a burgeoning partnership between Russia and Iran that has deepened in recent months but even over the longer time horizon. We’ve released significant detail regarding the provision of UAV technology from Iran to Russia. We have also detailed our concerns that Russia may also seek ballistic missiles, ballistic missile technology, that Iran has,” he said.

The claims first emerged in July, with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan alleging that Washington had received “information” indicating that the Islamic Republic was preparing to provide Russia with “up to several hundred drones, including weapons-capable UAVs on an expedited timeline” for use in the war.

Back in December last year, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani said Ukrainian officials had failed to provide any evidence for their claim that Russia was using Iranian drones in its war on Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian side did not present any evidence of Russia’s use of Iranian drones in the war with this country at the technical meeting,” he said following a technical meeting between Ukrainian and Iranian specialists.

Ashtiani emphasized that claims about Russian forces’ alleged use of Iranian-made drones in the war in Ukraine are not important because they are based on “baseless statements and rumors.”

“Iran and Russia have had a long history of military cooperation which was in no way linked to the issue of Tehran’s drone supply during Moscow’s special operation in Kiev,” he added.

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