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At end of drill, Iran army chief warns US aircraft carrier not to return to Persian Gulf
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) ' Iran's army chief on Tuesday warned an American aircraft carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf in Tehran's latest tough rhetoric over the strategic waterway.
Gen. Ataollah Salehi spoke as a 10-day Iranian naval exercise ended near the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf. The drill was a show of strength at a time when Iranian officials have warned they could try to shut down the vital oil passage if the United States enacts tough new sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.
"We recommend to the American warship that passed through the Strait of Hormuz and went to Gulf of Oman not to return to the Persian Gulf," Salehi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
Motives behind Salehi's statement were not immediately clear.
He said Iran's enemies have understood the message of the naval exercises, saying, "We have no plan to begin any irrational act but we are ready against any threat."
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet has said that USS John C. Stennis and another vessel headed out from the Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz last Tuesday, after a visit to Dubai's Jebel Ali port. The Fleet did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Salehi's comments.
On Thursday Iran said its surveillance planes and vessels recorded video and photographed a U.S. aircraft carrier during Iran's ongoing navy drill near a strategic waterway in the Persian Gulf.
Gen. Shahrokh Shahram, an air defense commander, said Iranian forces had warned off several foreign aircraft that he claimed entered Iranian airspace during the drill. He said the craft left the airspace after warnings from Iranian air defense units. He did not say which country the aircraft belonged to.
Iran had said the sea maneuvers would cover a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) stretch of water beyond the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, as well as parts of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.
A leading Iranian lawmaker said Sunday the maneuvers served as practice for closing the strait if the West enacts sanctions blocking Iranian oil sales. Top Iranian officials made the same threat last week.