The US Navy said it has deployed a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf amid heightened tensions with Iran over its nuclear program, Fox News reported Monday.
Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet was quoted by Fox News as saying that the deployment of the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise along the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group marks only the fourth time in the past decade that the Navy has had two aircraft carriers operating at the same time in the region.
Support anti-piracy efforts. USS Enterprise (Photo: Reuters)
Derrick-Frost said the two carriers will support the American military operations in Afghanistan and anti-piracy efforts off Somalia's coast and in the Gulf of Aden.
The warships will also patrol the Gulf's strategic oil routes that Iran has threatened to close in retaliation for economic sanctions, he added.
Also on Monday, Iran's nuclear chief signaled Tehran's envoys may bring a compromise offer to the talks this week with world powers: Promising to eventually stop producing its most highly enriched uranium, while not totally abandoning its ability to make nuclear fuel.
The proposal outlined late Sunday seeks to directly address one of the potential main issues in the talks scheduled to begin Friday between Iran and the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany.
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The US and others have raised serious concerns about Iran's production and stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, which could be turned into weapons-grade strength in a matter of months.
But the proposal described by Iran's nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, may not go far enough to satisfy the West because it would leave the higher enriched uranium still in Tehran's hands rather than transferred outside the country.
Abbasi said Tehran could stop its production of 20% enriched uranium needed for a research reactor, and continue enriching uranium to lower levels for power generation.
This could take place once Iran has stockpiled enough of the 20% enriched uranium, Abbasi told state TV. The 20% enriched material can be used for medical research and treatments.
'Job is being carried out based on need'
The enrichment issue lies at the core of the dispute between Iran and the West, which fears Tehran is seeking an atomic weapon - a charge the country denies, insisting its uranium program is for peaceful purposes only.
Uranium has to be enriched to more than 90% to be used for a nuclear weapon, but with Iran enriching uranium to 20% levels, there are concerns it has come a step closer to nuclear weapons capability.
Abbasi said production of uranium enriched up to 20% is not part of the nation's long-term program - beyond amounts needed for its research reactor in Tehran - and insisted that Iran "doesn't need" to enrich beyond the 20% levels.
"The job is being carried out based on need," he said. "When the need is met, we will decrease production and it is even possible to completely reverse to only 3.5%" enrichment levels.
It was not immediately clear whether Abbasi's comments reflect what will be Tehran's official stance when the negotiations begin in Istanbul more than 14 months after the last round collapsed.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted on the Iranian parliament's website on Monday as saying he hopes for some progress in the upcoming talks.
"We will honestly try to have the two sides conclude with a win-win situation in which Iran achieves its rights while removing concerns of five-plus-one group," he said.
Iran insists it has full rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty to enrich uranium to create nuclear fuel and says it only seeks enrichment levels to power reactors, but the US and others worry that the same process can be used to make weapons-grade material.
Ahead of Istanbul, there are signs Tehran is confident it may have beaten back the toughest Western demands for a complete halt to uranium enrichment and that some bargaining room has now been opened for new proposals.
Abbasi's remarks follow a bravado last week from Iranian lawmaker Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghadam, who claimed Tehran has the know-how and the capability to produce a nuclear weapon but would never do so.
Moghadam also said that Iran has the means to produce 90-plus percent enrichment, though he did not elaborate.
AP contributed to the report
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