DUBAI, April 13 (Reuters) - Iran has called off a deployment of warships to the Atlantic Ocean, the semi-official Fars news agency said on Sunday, shelving plans for its vessels to approach U.S. maritime borders in response to the U.S. navy’s presence in the Gulf.
A senior Iranian naval commander was quoted in February as saying that several warships would be sent towards U.S. maritime borders in the Atlantic although the Pentagon said at the time that it was not concerned and that many countries operated in the ocean’s international waters.
But on Sunday, Fars quoted Navy commander Admiral Habibollah Sayyari as saying: “Due to a change in schedule, the battle Group-29 of the naval forces of the Iranian navy will not head to the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the mission will possibly be given to another group.”
He gave no reason for the decision but said warships’ missions were likely to change “depending on the situation in the region”, such as a rise in piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
“So (the) Group-29, which consists of the Sabalan destroyer, Khark logistics carrier and two helicopters... will not go to the Atlantic Ocean and will return home within days,” Sayyari was quoted as saying.
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.
Iran, whose entire 1,800 km (1,120 miles) southern border runs along the Gulf and the adjacent Gulf of Oman, has often said it could block the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the two waters, if Tehran came under military attack over its disputed nuclear programme. (Reporting by Mehrdad Balali; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Raissa Kasolowsky)