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U.S. Carrier Crosses Strait of Hormuz Unharmed

120119-N-YL945-045 ARABIAN SEA (Jan. 19, 2012) The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Abraham Lin...

120119-N-YL945-045 ARABIAN SEA (Jan. 19, 2012) The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) join for a turnover of responsibility in the Arabian Sea. Both ships are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Colby K. Neal/Released)

The U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 22 and is now in the Persian Gulf, the Pentagon said, after Tehran threatened to close the strategic shipping route.

"USS Abraham Lincoln completed a regular and routine transit of the Strait of Hormuz to conduct maritime security operations as scheduled," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said in an email to AFP. "The transit was completed as previously scheduled and without incident."

The carrier, which can have up to 80 planes and helicopters onboard, was escorted by the guided-missile cruiser Cape St. George and two destroyers.

Earlier, Britain's Ministry of Defence said a British Royal Navy frigate and a French vessel had joined the carrier group to sail through the waterway.

While allied ships often participate in U.S. naval exercises and sometimes are part of joint naval flotillas, the presence of British and French ships seemed to be a message to Tehran about the West's resolve to keep the route open.

"HMS Argyll and a French vessel joined a U.S. carrier group transiting through the Strait of Hormuz, to underline the unwavering international commitment to maintaining rights of passage under international law," said a spokesman from Britain's MoD.

He said Britain maintained "a constant presence in the region as part of our enduring contribution to Gulf security."

Iran's military and political leaders had warned they could close the strait — a key transit route for global oil supplies — if increased Western sanctions over Tehran's suspect nuclear program halt Iranian oil exports.

The Islamic republic's navy had also warned it would react if the U.S. tried to redeploy one of its aircraft carriers to the waterway.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has repeatedly said closing the strait would cross a "red line." Two of the 11 U.S. aircraft carriers are in the region.

Since then, Iran has tried to ease tensions, with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi saying last week that Tehran had never tried to close the strait.

“We want peace and stability in the region," Salehi said.

European Union foreign ministers meeting Jan. 23 in Brussels are expected to agree to sanction Iran's central bank and announce an embargo on buying Iranian oil.

The U.S., France, Britain and Germany accuse Iran of seeking to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran says its nuclear drive is peaceful.




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