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A spokesman for the National Security Council was not immediately available for comment.
Iranian warships sailing into the Atlantic would be a major test for the Biden government, which has tried to re-engage Tehran in negotiations on its nuclear program.
Iranian ships include a frigate and the Makran, a former oil tanker that officials say has been converted into a floating outpost.
Top officials in Tehran have implicitly confirmed the movement of the ships. In response to reports from POLITICO, the Iranian State Department on Monday warned US officials to avoid misjudgments about the country’s warships sailing in international waters.
“Iran is always present in international waters and has this right under international law and can reside in international waters,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh to reporters in Tehran.
“No country can violate this right,” he said. “Anyone who has sat in glass houses should be careful.”
For the past few days, the ships have taken turns stopping and indicating that they may turn back, US officials said. But since Friday they have made significant progress south along the coast.
The Biden government briefed lawmakers on the ships’ progress on Tuesday, one of the people said.
After POLITICO first reported on the ship movements, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested that the US prevent the ships from reaching Venezuela.
“There are only two reasons why an Iranian warship would travel half a world to visit Venezuela.” Rubio wrote on Twitter. “They sold them to deliver military cargo; test the USA through joint exercises with them. We shouldn’t allow either. “
However, a U.S. defense official said there are currently no plans to send U.S. Navy ships to monitor or deter the Iranian task force. The US Southern Command typically operates two inshore combat ships in the South and Central America region.
The cargo and intent of the ships is also unknown. However, satellite photos of the Makran, captured by Maxar Technologies in April and May and shared with POLITICO, show the ship left a port in Iran with seven high-speed rapid attack vessels on deck in April. The images were first reported by USNI News. Another picture taken in May shows the Makran north of Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz with boats still on board.
The boats seen in the pictures correspond to the fast attack ships of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Cors Navy, which frequently patrol the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. This type of boat has been used to harass US ships in international waters in recent months.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on the movement of the ships during a press conference Tuesday.
“I’m not going to speculate about what the Iranian Navy might or might not do,” Kirby said. He noted, however, that Adm. Craig Faller, commander of US Southern Command, “has the skills to secure our interests and fulfill our obligations in this part of the world.”
Also on Wednesday, a large ship belonging to the Iranian Navy, the Kharg, sank after it caught fire, Iranian media reported.
Although the exact cause of the fire is not yet clear, Iranian military facilities have been damaged in the past by explosions and fires that analysts suspect is the work of Israel that is viewing Iran as a great adversary and attempting to damage its nuclear program .
The ship sank in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian media quoted a Marine spokesman as saying there had been a 20-hour battle to control the fire, but to no avail. The fire broke out in the ship’s engine room, said the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars, which quoted the unnamed spokesman.
The media reported that the ship had been in service for 40 years and was used for both logistical and training purposes.
Nahal Toosi and Betsy Woodruff Swan contributed to this report