Iran to send warships close to US waters as tensions between them escalate

Diplomatic tensions between the United States and Iran escalated on Friday as Tehran announced it would send warships close to American waters within months.

The Iranian Navy said it would deploy vessels in the Atlantic from March as a counter-measure to the presence of US aircraft carries in the Gulf.

Iranian Rear-Admiral Touraj Hassani said they would have a "continuous presence in international waters," which was intended to "wave the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran" and "secure shipping routes".

The flotilla will include the Sahand, a new destroyer equipped with helicopters, surface-to-surface missiles, anti-aircraft guns, and electronic warfare capabilities.

It was the latest expansive naval move by the regime, which has also sent ships to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden to protect Iranian vessels from Somali pirates.

Last month Iran’s navy said it was sending two or three ships on a mission to Venezuela.

Friction with Washington has ratcheted up since Donald Trump took office.

In May, Mr Trump announced he was withdrawing the US from the 2015 deal that restricted the country’s nuclear ambitions, and reimposed sanctions on Iran’s banking and energy sectors.

Iran has since threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which one third of all crude oil traded by sea passes.

The latest naval salvo by Iran came a day after Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, warned its regime not to go ahead with plans to launch several satellites.

Mike Pompeo has issued warnings to IranCredit:

Mr Pompeo said the three proposed launches would violate a UN Security Council resolution by using ballistic missile technology.

He said the rockets involved included technology "virtually identical" to that in intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the US would "not stand by" if they were launched.

The comments appeared aimed at building a legal case for further US action to stop Iran’s missile programme.

Tehran denied it has missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads, and rejected accusations the space launches would violate a UN resolution.

Mr Pompeo will travel to the Middle East next week in an effort to shore up support from from US allies amid increasing tensions in the region.

It will be his first trip to the region since Mr Trump decided to withdraw US forces from Syria.

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Mr Pompeo will visit eight countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

A State Department spokesman said that, in Riyadh, he would seek an update on Saudi Arabia’s investigation into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey.

Mr Pompeo will also visit Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.

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