The U.S. said it's sending an aircraft carrier strike group and bomber force to the Middle East to send an "unmistakable message" to the Iranian regime, citing "a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" it suggested were linked to Tehran.
"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," National Security Advisor John Bolton said in a statement Sunday night, May 5.
Without giving further details, Bolton said the deployment of the bomber force and USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group would send a "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."
The Lincoln group deployment was expedited to the Gulf from the Mediterranean because of recent indications of land and maritime preparations by Iranian troops and their proxies in the Middle East for possible attacks on U.S. forces, according to a defense official, who asked not to be named because the information has not yet been publicly released.
The USS Abraham Lincoln had in recent weeks been docked at the port of San Diego. Pentagon officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tensions with Iran have been rising for months as U.S. 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, stoking inflation and undermining investment. The Trump administration ratcheted up the pressure early this month by letting waivers allowing eight governments to import Iranian oil expire.
An Iranian official involved with the nuclear pact's implementation told state-run Iranian Students News Agency on Monday 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 resist U.S. sanctions by boosting non-oil exports and pursuing oil sales.
In the past week, Iran's oil minister also warned that OPEC is in danger of collapse as some nations seek to undermine their fellow members, an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia's pledge to fill the supply gap created by U.S. sanctions.
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 Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah, which the U.S. and many other nations consider a terrorist group.
But Iranian officials contend that caving in to U.S. demands will only invite more blows from an administration that's made suppressing Iran a centerpiece of its Mideast strategy, to the benefit of Iran's chief regional foes, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
This article was written by Melissa Cheok, a reporter for Bloomberg.