US moves carrier strike group out of Gulf as tensions with Iran appear to ebb

Pentagon spokesperson says USS Nimitz will move to Indo-Pacific Command, but declines to discuss assessments of Iranian military threat

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz transits the Arabian Sea, September 7, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt/U.S. Navy via AP)
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz transits the Arabian Sea, September 7, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt/U.S. Navy via AP)

WASHINGTON, United States — US President Joe Biden’s administration has pulled an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf in a sign of potentially easing tensions with Iran, which had soared under former US president Donald Trump.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the USS Nimitz carrier strike group had sailed from the US military’s Central Command in the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific Command region.

Kirby did not confirm reports the Nimitz was headed back to the United States after some nine months at sea.

But he indicated that, after the Trump administration ramped up the US military presence in the Gulf, the Biden administration did not see keeping the carrier there as necessary for US security needs.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Jan. 28, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kirby declined to discuss the current Pentagon assessment of an Iranian military threat to US bases or Gulf allies.

However, he said: “We don’t make decisions like this lightly.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “believes that we have a robust presence in the Middle East to respond” to any threat, Kirby added.

“The secretary was mindful of the larger geo-strategic picture when he approved the movement of the carrier strike group from the Central Command area of responsibility to the Indo PACOM area of responsibility,” he said.

Kirby would not say if the Nimitz would be replaced in the region in the near future, noting that the US Navy has a limited number of aircraft carriers.

“We’re constantly watching the threat. We’re constantly trying to meet that threat with proper capabilities,” he said.

Trump imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after pulling America out of a nuclear accord in 2018, as part of what he called maximum pressure against Iran.

Trump cited Iran’s ballistic missile program and said that the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed in 2015, does not go far enough to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. As the Trump administration increased sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington steadily increased. During Trump’s final days as president, Tehran seized a South Korean oil tanker and began enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels, while the US has sent B-52 bombers, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine into the region.

Iran has also increased its military drills, including firing cruise missiles as part of a naval drill in the Gulf of Oman last month.

Illustrative — This photo released by the semi-official Fars News Agency shows Iranian troops participating in a military drill near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, Iran, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Units from the navy, air force and ground forces are participating in a nearly 2 million-square-kilometer (772,200-square-mile) area of the Gulf of Oman. (Mehdi Marizad/Fars News Agency via AP)

Biden has pledged to return to the nuclear deal, signed with world powers who are also keen to keep the struggling pact going.

Iran has missile capability of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), far enough to reach Israel as well as US military bases in the region.

Last January, after the US killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, Tehran retaliated by firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops, resulting in brain concussion injuries to dozens of American soldiers.

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