The Pentagon on Tuesday answered an Iranian warning to keep US aircraft carriers out of the Gulf by declaring that American warships will continue regularly scheduled deployments to the strategic waterway.
George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said the Navy operates in the Gulf in accordance with international law and to maintain "a constant state of high vigilance" to ensure the flow of sea commerce.
Earlier Tuesday, Iran's army chief warned an American aircraft carrier not to return to the Gulf. Iran also has warned it could block one of the world's key oil tanker sea lanes in response to economic pressures.
White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed Iran's warnings as signs of Tehran's weakness and of the international isolation it has faced for pursuing a nuclear program.
"It's the latest round of Iranian threats and is confirmation that Tehran is under increasing pressure for its continued failure to live up to its international obligations," Carney said.
"Iran is isolated and is seeking to divert attention from its behavior and domestic problems."
The US Navy has said the aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis and another vessel left the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz a week ago. Iran has been holding naval exercises near the Strait at the mouth of the Gulf, which is a critically important passage for international oil supplies.
"The deployment of US military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades," Little said in a written statement.
"These are regularly scheduled movements in accordance with our longstanding commitments to the security and stability of the region and in support of ongoing operations."
The US Navy 5th Fleet has long been headquartered in the Gulf state of Bahrain.
Asked whether the US intends to send naval reinforcements to the Gulf in response to Iranian talk of closing the Strait of Hormuz, Little did not answer directly but said, "No one in this government seeks confrontation over the Strait of Hormuz. It's important to lower the temperature."
Little reiterated that any closure of the strait would not be tolerated, but he declined to elaborate.
On Monday Iran test-fired a surface-to-surface cruise missile as part of its naval maneuvers in the Gulf, prompting Iran's navy chief to boast that the strait is "completely under our control."
Asked about the significance of the missile test, Little said, "We are aware of reports of missile tests that are apparently tied to Iranian naval exercises that began in late December. They have the right to conduct exercises. The United States believes that the Iranian regime should devote its energy and resources to establishing friendly relations with countries in the Gulf region."