Iran says ready to respond, but U.S. aircraft carrier no threat

A U.S sailor keeps watch from the captain's bridge onboard the USS John C. Stennis as it makes its way to the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran is ready to respond to any hostile U.S. action, but it does not consider the arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf last week a significant threat, an Iranian navy commander said on Monday.

The USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf on Friday, ending a long absence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the region as tensions rise between Tehran and Washington.

"The presence of this warship is insignificant to us," Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

"We will not allow this warship to come near our territorial waters in the Persian Gulf," said Sayyari.

Sayyari said the U.S. navy was allowed to sail in international waters near Iran, just as the Iranian navy could sail in the Atlantic Ocean near U.S. waters.

He said, however, that Iran was on alert for possible threats. "They do not have the courage or ability to take any measures against us. We have enough capabilities to stand against their actions and we have fully rehearsed for that."

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards launched war games in the Gulf on Saturday in which naval vessels, helicopters, drones, rocket launchers and commando units took part.

Praising the "success" of the war games, Guards' spokesman Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif said on Monday: "The Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman has had more safety and security in the last 10 months in the absence of a U.S. aircraft carrier."

A U.S.-Iranian war of words has escalated since U.S. President Donald Trump took Washington out of a world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran in May, and reimposed sanctions on its banking and energy sectors.

Iran has warned that if it cannot sell its oil due to U.S. pressures, then no other regional country will be allowed to do so either, threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.

A third of the world’s sea-borne oil passes through the Strait from Middle East crude producers to major markets.

In recent years, there have been periodic confrontations between the Revolutionary Guards and U.S. military in the Gulf, but the number of incidents has dropped in recent months.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Mark Potter, Richard Balmforth)