An Iranian naval officer said a number of warships had been
ordered to approach U.S. maritime borders as a response to
the stationing of U.S. vessels in the Gulf, the semi-official
Fars news agency has reported.
"Iran's military fleet is approaching the United States'
maritime borders, and this move has a message," the agency
quoted Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad as saying.
Haddad, described as commander of the Iranian navy's northern
fleet, said the vessels had started their voyage towards the
Atlantic Ocean via "waters near South Africa", Fars reported.
Fars said the plan was part of "Iran's response to
Washington's beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf."
The Fars report, which carried no details of the vessels,
could not be confirmed independently.
In Washington, a U.S. defense official, speaking on condition
of anonymity, cast doubt on any claims that the Iranian ships
were approaching U.S. maritime borders. But the official
added that "ships are free to operate in international
The United States and its allies regularly stage naval
exercises in the Gulf, saying they want to ensure freedom of
navigation in the waterway through which 40 percent of the
world's seaborne oil exports passes.
U.S. military facilities in the region include a base for its
Fifth Fleet in the Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain.
Iran sees the Gulf as its own backyard and believes it has a
legitimate interest in expanding its influence there.
Iranian officials have often said Iran could block the Strait
of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Gulf, if it came under
military attack over its disputed nuclear programme, and the
Western war games are seen in the region as an attempt to
deter any such move.
Fars said the Iranian navy had been developing its presence
in international waters since 2010, regularly launching
vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to protect
Iranian ships from Somali pirates operating in the area.