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The U.S. Defense Department said on Monday that Iranian warships are allowed to sail into the Atlantic Ocean so long as “they understand the responsibilities” of cruising so close to the U.S. border.
The Pentagon’s pronouncement comes just days after Iran announced that warships were approaching the U.S. maritime border in response to America’s naval presence in the Persian Gulf.
Asked to respond to Iran’s pointed military rhetoric, Pentagon spokesman Bill Speaks told the Washington Free Beacon that it would not be an issue for Iranian ships to enter the Atlantic.
“Freedom of the seas applies to all maritime nations, all navies, everywhere—so long as they understand the responsibilities, which come with that freedom,” Speaks said. “So, if they are able to send their ships to the Atlantic, I'm sure they won't be surprised to find many, many others already there.”
Speaks added that there is no solid evidence that Iranian ships are sailing towards the United States.
“On the Iranian claim, at this point, this is merely an announcement, not an actual deployment,” he said.
Iranian naval commanders struck a much less conciliatory tone, threatening to sink U.S. warships and kill American soldiers.
“The Americans can sense by all means how their warships will be sunk with 5,000 crews and forces in combat against Iran and how they should find its hulk in the depths of the sea,” Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi, the commander of the elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy, was quoted as saying Sunday in the regional press.
Another Iranian general said that the dispatch of warships to the United States “has a message.”
“Iran’s military fleet is approaching the United States’ maritime borders, and this move has a message,” Iranian Adm. Afshin Rezayee Haddad said according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Iran dispatched the war fleet in “response to Washington’s beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf,” where American ships are stationed to help keep international shipping lanes safe, according to the report.
U.S. officials with knowledge of Iran’s movements said they were not particularly worried about Iran, which has a history of embellishing its military strength.
“These statements are probably more reflective of Iranian naval propaganda rather than any strategic intent,” one U.S. official told the Free Beacon. “Iranian officials have made similar statements since at least 2011, all of which turned out to be rhetorical posturing.”
Iran would also have a difficult time making it to America, the official said.
“Even if Tehran were serious about sending naval assets to the U.S. maritime border, it would be hard pressed to do so,” the source said. “Traversing thousands of miles would pose logistical challenges even for the world’s most advanced naval forces.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney also said on Monday that the United States has “no evidence” Iranian warships are on the way to the United States.
“Well, first of all, there was an Iranian announcement that they are moving ships close to the United States, and we have no evidence that Iran is in fact sending ships close to the U.S. border,” he told reporters during his daily briefing.
Iran’s amped up military threats against the United States come just one week before Western negotiators are set to meet with Tehran for another round of nuclear negotiations.
The talks could hit speed bumps given a recent series of statements by Iranian leaders who have vowed to keep the nuclear program running at full steam.
One of Iran’s senior negotiators said on Monday that the issue of Tehran’s ballistic missile program would be off the table. The statement prompted quick pushback from the White House.
“Per the Joint Plan of Action, Iran must address the [United Nations] Security Council resolutions related to its nuclear program before a comprehensive resolution can be reached,” Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokesperson, told the Free Beacon.
“Among other things, UN Security Council Resolution 1929 prohibits all activities involving ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches,” Meehan said. “So this issue will need to be addressed during the comprehensive discussions.”