US aircraft carrier to stay in the Gulf due to Iran threats: Pentagon

WASHINGTON • The United States has reversed a decision to bring an aircraft carrier home from the Gulf, with the Pentagon saying that due to “recent threats” by Iran the USS Nimitz would stay in position.

The Nimitz has been patrolling Gulf waters since November, but in a statement issued on Dec 31, Acting US Defence Secretary Christopher Miller ordered the vessel to “transit directly home to complete a nearly 10-month deployment”.

The New York Times, quoting US officials, said this move was part of a “de-escalatory” signal to Teheran to avoid a conflict in President Donald Trump’s last days in office.

However, Mr Miller issued a new statement changing course on Sunday. “Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other US government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” he said.

“The USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the US Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve” of the US. He did not elaborate on the threats involved.

His statement came one year after a US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Thousands of Iraqis chanted “revenge” and “no to America” on Sunday.

The anniversary of the Baghdad drone strike was also marked in recent days across Iran and by supporters in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.

Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018 and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against Teheran, reimposing and reinforcing crippling sanctions.

The two nations have twice come to the brink of war since June 2019, especially after General Soleimani’s killing. Days after the general’s death, Iran launched missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops, with Mr Trump refraining from any further military response.