US prepared for confrontation with Iran: Panetta

Washington: The US military is "fully prepared" for any confrontation with Iran over moves to close the strategic Gulf of Hormuz, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said as White House indicated that option of diplomatic negotiations was still open for Tehran.

"We always continue to make preparations to be prepared for any contingency," Panetta told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

Panetta was asked whether in the face of Iran`s threat to close the straits in retaliation for the new international economic sanctions, Washington was adjusting American forces in the region. "We are not making any special steps at this point in order to deal with the situation. Why? Because, frankly, we are fully prepared to deal with that situation now," he said.

Comments of the Defence Secretary came as Washington is reported beefing up its naval presence in the mouth of the Gulf in response to the threats by Iran. Reports said that US has added a second carrier strike group in the Middle East. The new carrier in the region are USS Carl Vinson ans USS Abraham Lincoln. The Americans also have forces in nearby UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and other Gulf nations.

The buildup of American forces comes in the wake of Tehran`s threat to close the straits – a choke point for one-fifth of the world`s traded oil.

The United States, Panetta said, has always made clear its policies regards to Iran, both in terms of their not obtaining a nuclear weapon and also, obviously, not closing the Straits of Hormuz.

"Our goal has always been to make very clear that we would hope that any differences that we had, any concerns we have can be peacefully resolved and done through international laws and international rules. We abide by those international laws and international rules. We would hope that Iran would do the same," Panetta said.

Echoing similar lines, the White House said the option of diplomatic negotiations is still open for Iran.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "The President has always made clear that by offering the possibility of resolving this dispute with the Iranians through negotiations and talks would strengthen the United States` hand."

"If Iran agreed to do that and fulfilled its international obligations and abandoned its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, that would be to the greater good and in the interest of the United States as well as its allies and partners around the world."

"And if it did not, it would be clear to the whole world that Iran was the problem not the United States. That is exactly what has happened. We have a level of international consensus about Iranian behaviour that we did not have before," he said.

Carney said Iran`s economy was clearly suffering from the effects of the international sanctions regime, as well as the unilateral sanctions that various nations have placed on the nation. He refused to answer questions on the letter written by the Obama Administration to Iran on avoiding confrontation with the US.