The United States has reversed a decision to bring an aircraft carrier home from the Persian 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 late November. In a statement issued on 31 December the acting US defence secretary, Christopher C Miller, had 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 Tehran to avoid a conflict in President Donald Trump’s last days in office.
However, Miller issued a new statement on Sunday changing course. “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 United States of America.”
Miller did not elaborate on the threats involved.
His statement came one year after a US drone strike in Baghdad killed the Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran and world powers in 2018 and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, reimposing and reinforcing sanctions.
The two countries have twice come to the brink of war since June 2019, most acutely after the killing of Soleimani.
Days after the Suleimani assassination, Iran launched a volley of missiles at Iraqi bases housing US and other coalition troops. The US refrained from any further military response.