US to keep warships in Gulf region despite Iranian threats: WH

Washington: The US has brushed aside Iran`s warning to keep American aircraft carriers out of the Persian Gulf, dismissing its latest threats as signs that biting sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear activities are working. Underlining its commitment to protect maritime freedom in the Persian Gulf region, the White House and the Pentagon dismissed Iranian threats and ruled out any change in US warship deployment schedule in the key region.

"It`s the latest round of Iranian threats and is confirmation that Tehran is under increasing pressure for its continued failure to live up to its international obligations," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "Iran is isolated and is seeking to divert attention from its behaviour and domestic problems," Carney said on Tuesday.

Separately, a top Pentagon official underlined that the US was "committed to protecting maritime freedoms that are the basis for global prosperity", adding "this is one of the main reasons our military forces operate in the region". "The deployment of US military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

"These are regularly scheduled movements in accordance with our longstanding commitments to the security and stability of the region and in support of ongoing operations," he said.

The separate White House and Pentagon`s statements came hours after Iranian Army chief Major General Ataollah Salehi warned the US not to move its aircraft carrier back in the region, noting that it will take action if it did so. "Iran will not repeat its warning…. the enemy`s carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasise to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," he had said.

Salehi did not cite a specific vessel, but the US Navy`s 5th Fleet has said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and another vessel headed out from the Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz last week after a visit to Dubai port. "I advise, recommend and warn them over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once," Saleh said in a statement.

Iran last week threatened to block the strait if sanctions are imposed on its oil exports. France, Britain and Germany have proposed sanctions to punish Iran`s lack of cooperation on its nuclear programme. Tehran denies the allegations, saying its nuclear programme is exclusively for medical and power generation purposes.

Pledging to keep American warships deployed in Persian Gulf, the Pentagon spokesman said these carrier strike group deployments are necessary to maintain the continuity and operational support to ongoing missions in the US Central Command area of responsibility. "The US Navy operates under international maritime conventions to maintain a constant state of high vigilance in order to ensure the continued, safe flow of maritime traffic in waterways critical to global commerce," Little said.

"Our transits of the Strait of Hormuz continue to be in compliance with international law, which guarantees our vessels the right of transit passage," he noted. The defiant Iranian threat to the US came just after Tehran ended 10 days of naval exercises at the entrance to the Gulf to show it`s capability to shut down the strategic oil shipping channel in the Strait of Hormuz if it felt threatened.