Iranian warships 'to sail close to US maritime border'

Iranian navy frigate IS Alvand passes through the Suez Canal at Ismailia, Egypt (Feb 2011) Iran is reported to be eager to project its naval power beyond the Middle East

Iranian warships in the Atlantic Ocean are to sail close to US maritime borders for the first time, a senior naval commander has said.

Iranian media quoted Adm Afshin Rezayee Haddad as saying the deployment was a response to US vessels in the Gulf.

The fleet consists of a destroyer and a helicopter-carrying supply ship.

It began its voyage last month and entered the Atlantic though South African waters, the IRNA news agency quoted the admiral as saying.

The Iranian ships are reported to be carrying about 30 navy academy cadets for training along with their regular crews. They are on a three-month mission.

Correspondents say that the voyage comes amid continuing efforts by Iran to to project its power across the Middle East and beyond.

The semi-official Fars news agency said the move was a response to an increased US naval presence in the Gulf.

"Iran's military fleet is approaching the United States' maritime borders, and this move has a message," it quoted Adm Rezayee Haddad as saying.

A defence official in Washington was quoted by the Reuters news agency as casting doubt on Iranian claims that their ships were approaching US maritime borders. But the official added that "ships are free to operate in international waters".

The US and its allies regularly hold naval exercises in the Gulf in order to preserve what it says is freedom of navigation in the waterway, through which 40% of the world's seaborne oil exports passes.

The US Fifth Fleet - with about 5,000 personnel - is based in Bahrain, across the Gulf from Iran.

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