An Iranian naval commander says Iranian warships have been sent toward the maritime borders of the United States in response to the positioning of U.S warships in the Persian Gulf
Iran’s state-controlled Fars news agency on February 8 quoted Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad as saying that an Iranian fleet was now moving toward the Atlantic Ocean via "waters near South Africa."
Haddad was also quoted by Fars as saying, "this move has a message."
The report, which did not include any details about any vessels in the purported fleet, could not immediately be independently confirmed.
In Washington, the Pentagon cast doubt on the claims, but added that "ships are free to operate in international waters."
The Iranian commander’s announcement comes nine days ahead of the start of negotiations between Iran and world powers on a permanent agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.
Those talks are meant to build on a six-month interim deal that was reached in November 2013 and that went into effect in January.
Under the interim deal, Iran has promised to stop enriching uranium and allow greater access for international inspectors to its nuclear facilities.
In return, Western countries have agreed to ease some economic sanctions imposed against Iran over its nuclear program -- which the United States, Britain, and other Western powers think is aimed at building nuclear weapons.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is urging officials not to base their hopes for the country's economic recovery on sanctions relief from any deal reached with world powers.
Speaking to army officers in Tehran on February 8, Khamenei said that "the only solution to the country's economic problems is to employ [Iran's] infinite domestic capacities, not to pin hopes on the lifting of sanctions."
His comments came as Iranian officials said separately that they were ready to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about their nuclear program during talks that began in Tehran on February 8.
The visiting IAEA team was expected to raise sensitive military-related issues.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, Fars, and ITAR-TASS