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Pentagon rejects threat from Iran, says it will continue scheduled movements of U.S. carriers on Persian Gulf

By Heather Langan and Viola Gienger,

Jan. 3 (Bloomberg) -- The head of Iran’s army warned the U.S. against sending an aircraft carrier back to the Persian Gulf after the USS John C. Stennis left the area a week ago, a threat rejected by the Pentagon.

“We usually don’t repeat our warning, and we warn only once,” Ataollah Salehi was cited as saying by the state-run Fars news agency. “We recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf.”

The Stennis, which Iran said it spotted during naval exercises, passed eastward through the Strait of Hormuz on Dec. 27 on a routine voyage and was operating in the northern Arabian Sea, according to the U.S. 5th Fleet, which has a base in Bahrain.

The U.S. Navy maintains a “constant state of high vigilance” to “ensure the continued, safe flow of maritime traffic in waterways critical to global commerce,” George Little, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said in an e-mailed statement today.

“These are regularly scheduled movements in accordance with our longstanding commitments to the security and stability of the region and in support of ongoing operations,” Little said. “The deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades.”

Iranian Maneuvers

Salehi spoke today at a ceremony to mark the completion of 10 days of maneuvers by the Iranian navy on the east side of the strait in the Gulf of Oman. His warning was the latest from Iranian officials asserting influence over the critical oil- transit route.

Iran doesn’t intend to disrupt shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, Deputy Navy Commander Rear Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi said yesterday, according to Press TV.

About 15.5 million barrels of oil a day, or a sixth of global consumption, passes through the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Oil climbed to a six-week high after manufacturing in the U.S. and Asia expanded in December and as concern persisted that further sanctions against Iran may disrupt shipments.

Crude oil for February delivery rose $3.84, or 3.9 percent, to $102.67 a barrel at 12:19 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract touched $102.88, the highest level since Nov. 17. Futures climbed 8.2 percent in 2011, the third consecutive annual increase.

No Disruptions

The U.S. Navy said Dec. 28 that it won’t tolerate a disruption to shipping in the strait. The Stennis transited the Strait of Hormuz after a port visit to Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates, Navy Commander William Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mailed response to questions today.

Iran, the world’s third-largest oil exporter, is facing new sanctions on its trade and finances aimed at halting what the U.S. and allies say is a plan to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are expected to visit Iran soon, the Fars news agency cited Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying in Tehran today.

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