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Iran tracks US aircraft carrier amid Strait of Hormuz tension

FARS NEWS/ AFP - Getty Images

The USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier is seen as it allegedly went "inside the manoeuvre zone" where Iranian ships are conducting 10 days of wargames in the Gulf, accoridng to Iranian officials.

An Iranian surveillance plane has video recorded and photographed a U.S. aircraft carrier near a strategic waterway in the Persian Gulf, the country's IRNA news agency reported Thursday.

The report did not provide details, and it was unclear what information the Iranian military could glean from such images. But the announcement is an indication that Iran is seeking to cast its navy as having a powerful role in the region's waters.

IRNA quoted Iran's navy chief, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, as saying the action shows that Iran has "control over the moves by foreign forces" in the area, where Tehran is holding a 10-day military exercise.

Iran has alarmed American officials and the world by declaring it would close the main artery for oil exports from the Persian Gulf if the West imposes sanctions over its nuclear program. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

"An Iranian vessel and surveillance plane have tracked, filmed and photographed a U.S. aircraft carrier as it was entering the Gulf of Oman from the Persian Gulf," Sayyari said.

He added that the "foreign fleet will be warned by Iranian forces if it enters the area of the drill."

State TV showed what appeared to be the reported video, but it was not possible to make out the details of the carrier because the video was shot from far away.

The Iranian exercise is taking place in international waters near the Strait of Hormuz — the passageway for one-sixth of the world's oil supply.

Beyond it lie vast bodies of water, including the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet is also active in the area, as are warships of several other countries that patrol for pirates there.

Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay headed out from the Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, after a visit to Dubai's Jebel Ali port.

She described the passage through the strait as "a pre-planned, routine transit" for the carrier, which is providing air support from the north Arabian Sea to troops in Afghanistan.

Rebarich did not directly address Iranian claims of possessing the reported video but said the 5th Fleet's "interaction with the regular Iranian Navy continues to be within the standards of maritime practice, well known, routine and professional."

Thursday's report follows U.S. warnings over Iranian threats to choke off traffic through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington imposes sanctions targeting Iran's crude exports. On Wednesday, Rebarich said the Navy was "always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation."

The U.S. 5th Fleet said on Wednesday it would not allow any disruption of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz.

"Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated," the Bahrain-based fleet said in an e-mail.

Gen. Hossein Salami, the acting commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, rejected the warning.

"The U.S. is not in a position" to affect Iran's decisions, Salami told the semi-official Fars news agency Thursday. "Iran does not ask permission to implement its own defensive strategies."

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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