US aircraft carriers to deliver 'direct message to Iran'
In an apparent show of strength, Washington is deploying a second carrier strike group in the Gulf. US officials also confirmed their commitment to maintaining a global fleet of 11 aircraft carriers despite budget pressure to cut the fleet's size.
“That’s the reason we maintain a presence in the Middle East,” AP cited US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, as saying in a speech to about 1,700 sailors aboard the USS Enterprise. “We want them to know that we are fully prepared to deal with any contingency and it’s better for them to try to deal with us through diplomacy.”Panetta added that the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise is on course for the Persian Gulf – and will steam through the Strait of Hormuz in a direct message to Iran, AP reports."We'll continue to make those messages clear. The most important way to make those messages clear is to show that we are prepared, that we are strong, that we'll have a presence in that part of the world," Panetta added.The USS Enterprise, along with the other six ships in the carrier strike group, will deploy to the Middle East in March. It means the US will maintain two carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf region. The warships are expected to support the country’s battle operations in Afghanistan, its anti-piracy efforts and other missions.Meanwhile, Iran claims it is not concerned with the move, saying it is a part of routine activity."US 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 dispatch of a new warship is not a new issue and it should be interpreted as part of their permanent presence," Revolutionary Guard Deputy Commander Hossein Salami was quoted by the IRNA news agency on Saturday.Tensions escalated in the Gulf after Iran warned the US that it might block the Strait, which is a major transit route for global oil supplies, if the West places an embargo on its oil exports.Tehran also urged Washington not to send carriers into the Gulf. In return, Washington said it would continue to deploy its ships in the region.The USS Enterprise, along with the other six ships in the carrier strike group, will deploy to the Middle East in March. Therefore, the US will maintain two carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf region. The warships are expected to support the country’s battle operations in Afghanistan, its anti-piracy efforts and other missions.Next week the EU is set to agree an embargo on Iranian oil. The West expects the sanctions to force Iran to suspend the nuclear weapon activities it is allegedly practicing.