FTC Main-1557163483725
Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (far left) and aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (right) take part in an exercise with Spanish, French and British vessels in this file picture. Image Credit: AFP

Washington: The Trump administration is deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran and to show the United States will retaliate with “unrelenting force” to any attack, national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday.

With tensions already high between Washington and Tehran, a US official said the deployment has been ordered “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.”

However, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was not expecting any imminent Iranian attack.

Bolton — who has spearheaded an increasingly hawkish US policy on Iran — said the decision, which could exacerbate problems between the two countries, was meant to send a “clear and unmistakable message” of US resolve to Tehran.

Though he cited no specific Iranian activities that have raised new concerns, Iran has recently warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz if it was barred from using the strategic waterway.

About a fifth of the oil consumed globally passes through the strait.

“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces,” Bolton said in a statement.

It marked the latest in a series of moves by President Donald Trump’s administration aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Iran in recent months.

Washington has said it will stop waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, in an attempt to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. It has also blacklisted Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps, taking the unprecedented step of designating it as a foreign terrorist organisation, which Iran has cast as an American provocation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when asked by reporters about Bolton’s statement on a flight to Finland, said, “It’s something we’ve been working on for a little while.”

‘Directly accountable’

“It is absolutely the case that we have seen escalatory actions from the Iranians, and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests,” he said. “If these actions take place, if they do by some third-party proxy, a militia group, Hezbollah, we will hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for that.”

The Trump administration’s efforts to impose political and economic isolation on Tehran began last year when it unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal it and other world powers negotiated with Iran in 2015.

“The United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force,” Bolton said.

Tensions with Iran have been rising for months as US economic sanctions, put in place last year following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a 2015 nuclear treaty with Tehran, squeezed the economy.

An Iranian official involved with the nuclear pact’s implementation told state-run Iranian Students News Agency yesterday that the country may slightly scale back its commitments under the deal to protest the Trump administration’s policies.

The report was later removed from the ISNA website without explanation. In recent weeks top Iranian officials have urged their nation to boost non-oil exports.

The Trump administration has said its goal is to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero, part of its bid to force Tehran to change its policy in the Middle East, including its support for Al Houthi militants in Yemen and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group — which the US considers a terrorist group.

The carrier group heading to the Gulf is that of the USS Abraham Lincoln, which has been in the Mediterranean Sea. There is no carrier strike group in the Gulf, but such groups often transit through those waters since the Suez Canal is in the region.

At the end of April, the Abraham Lincoln and its fleet of accompanying ships trained alongside other US vessels and military units from the United Kingdom, Spain and France.