A US aircraft carrier deployed in the Middle East should "not return" to its base in the Gulf, the head of Iran's armed forces declared Tuesday, adding ominously there would be no repeat warning.
"We advise and insist that this warship not return to its former base in the Persian Gulf," Brigadier General Ataollah Salehi told reporters, according to the armed forces website.
"We don't have the intention of repeating our warning, and we warn only once," he was quoted as saying.
Gen. Ataollah Salehi spoke as a 10-day Iranian naval exercise ended Tuesday. The drill near the strategic Strait of Hormuz was Iran's latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its nuclear program.
The official IRNA news agency quoted Salehi as saying: "We recommend ... to the American warship that passed through the Strait of Hormuz and went on to the Gulf of Oman, not to return to the Persian Gulf."
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Motives behind Salehi's statement were not immediately clear.
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet has said that USS John C. Stennis and another vessel headed out from the Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz last Tuesday, after a visit to Dubai's Jebel Ali port.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the Iranian exercise was a display of strength intended "to deter the world from continuing sanctions against it."
Barak said at an Independence party meeting that he doubts Iran would close the Strait because that would only bring harsher international sanctions.
France on Monday condemned Iran's latest missile test, of a surface-to-surface cruise missile, saying it sent a "very bad" message to the West.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said at a regular online briefing Monday that France "regrets the very bad signal to the international community sent by the latest missile tests announced by Iran."
Iran test-fired the missile in a drill its navy chief said proved Tehran was in complete control of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-sixth of the world's oil supply.
The missile, called "Ghader," or "Capable" in Farsi, was described as an upgraded version of one that has been in service before. The official IRNA news agency said the missile "successfully hit its intended target" during the exercise.
An earlier version of the same cruise missile had a range of 124 miles (200 kilometers) and could travel at low altitudes. There were suggestions it could counter the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf.
When it comes to long-range missiles, however, Russia believes that Iran does not possess such weapons. Israel Radio quoted a Russian defense official as saying Monday that Tehran does not have the necessary technology to manufacture long-range missiles. The official cited the absence of such missiles from Iran's war games exercise as proof of this claim.
Meanwhile, there have been conflicting comments from Iranian officials over Tehran's intentions to close the Strait of Hormuz and U.S. warnings against such an ominous move.
"The Strait of Hormuz is completely under our control," Iran's navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said after Monday's test. "We do not allow any enemy to pose threats to our interests."
Israel considers Iran an existential threat due to its nuclear and long-range missile program. Iran is also a major backer of Hamas and Hezbollah militants who fight Israel.
The West fears Iran's nuclear program is aiming to develop weapons — a charge Tehran denies, insisting it is for peaceful purposes only.
U.S. President Barack Obama has signed a bill that applies penalties against Iran's central bank in an effort to hamper Tehran's ability to fund its nuclear enrichment program, although the administration is looking to soften the impact of those penalties because of concerns that they could lead to a spike in global oil prices or cause economic hardship to U.S. allies that import petroleum from Iran.
The penalties do not go into effect for six months. The president can waive them for national security reasons or if the country with jurisdiction over the foreign financial institution has significantly reduced its purchases of Iranian oil.
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