At least for now, U.S. Navy ships deployed in the region are escorting commercial vessels sailing under the flag of the United States of America through the Strait of Hormuz.
The decision was made by the Defense Department, military officials said Thursday. It followed Iran’s seizure Tuesday of a Danish vessel sailing flagged under the Marshall Islands. Such vessels are protected by the United States by treaty.
“Out of an abundance of caution, because of the unpredictability of our Iranian friends, we’re now positioned so that, should the Iranians decide that they’re going to be stupid, we’re ready to respond,” a U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal.
Even as the U.S. escalates its defensive posture in protecting vessels from Iranian piracy in the Strait of Hormuz, Vice President Joe Biden praised efforts to sign a deal with Tehran over its nuclear technology program.
Biden told an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Thursday the pending deal is “a historic opportunity to forge an enduring peaceful solution… We put together not only the toughest sanctions regime in history but one of the most broad-based,” the vice president maintained.
Biden also claimed the path to plutonium enrichment would be closed “forever” under the deal being negotiated. At present, he contended, Iran is already capable of producing eight atomic weapons. The agreement under discussion would “radically” alter the time line on Iran’s ability to achieve nuclear weapons capability, Biden said.
However, he added, the U.S. was not yet ruling out a military option. President Barack Obama might still walk away from the table, he said.
Iran is refusing to allow access to its military sites and is demanding that all sanctions be lifted immediately upon implementation of the agreement.
The United States and the five world powers negotiating the deal is reportedly insisting on sanctions relief phased in gradually over time, and a “clear” snap-back mechanism to be activated at the United Nations Security Council if Tehran violates the deal.
Final signatures are expected to be on the document by the end of June, if at all.