TEHRAN: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Thursday denied that its naval forces had test-fired rockets close to a US aircraft carrier in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz.
The Guards naval unit is responsible for securing Iranian interests in the Strait, a vital waterway for a large proportion of the world’s oil, regularly patrolling the area and conducting exercises.
“The Guards’ naval force had no exercise in the past week when the Americans claim that a missile or rocket was fired in the Hormuz Strait area,” said spokesman General Ramezan Sharif.
A US military official previously said an Iranian vessel had test-fired several rockets near three Western warships including the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier on December 26.
A French frigate and the USS Bulkeley destroyer were also in the area.
Though the rockets were not fired toward any warship their proximity to the foreign vessels — and several commercial ships — was “highly provocative”, said the official, who was not authorised to be named.
Sharif, however, accused the United States of lying about the incident — which reportedly occurred after Iranian naval forces announced via radio that the test-firing was to begin.
“Publishing such lies in the current situation is more a psychological operation,” Sharif said on the Guards’ official website.
“The security and peace of the Gulf is of serious strategic importance to Iran. The Guards conduct exercises to increase our required preparedness at due times, based on our own schedule.”
– New US sanctions –
The alleged incident comes after Iran and world powers led by the United States agreed a landmark deal to limit the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
While heralded by moderates, such as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, hardliners in Tehran have denounced the agreement as being against national interests.
Since the deal was struck on July 14 — it is yet to be implemented — Iran has conducted missile tests criticized by the US and also aired footage on state television of an underground missile base.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US was preparing fresh sanctions against companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates over alleged links to the Islamic republic’s ballistic missile program.
Such a move by the US Treasury Department would be the first American sanctions against Iran since the nuclear agreement.
Although Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei explicitly endorsed the nuclear accord in October he warned that new sanctions, under any pretext, would constitute a violation.
On Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said Iran would “respond to any interventionist measure by the US against its defense”, which has “no connection” to the nuclear deal.
“Such measures are unilateral, arbitrary and illegal and the Islamic Republic of Iran has warned the United States administration of this,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Ansari as saying.
“No measure can deprive Iran of its legal rights to strengthen its defense and security capability.”