The US carrier strike group on route to the Persian Gulf region has passed through the Suez Canal in Egypt and entered the Red Sea, Sky News Arabia has reported, citing Canal administration.
Earlier, the strike group reportedly skipped plans for a port visit to Croatia amid efforts to "expedite" its arrival in the Middle East.
Tehran dismissed the plans to deploy the carrier group in the CENTCOM region, a Pentagon designation whose area of responsibility includes the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, as a failed attempt to wage "a psychological war" against Iran.
This week, Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton said the US would deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln-led strike group to the Middle East to send a "clear message" to Iran that any attack on US interests would be met with "unrelenting force." Later, acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan called the deployment a "prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces."
Also this week, anonymous US officials told CNN that Iran was moving short-range ballistic missiles by sea to the Persian Gulf ahead of the US carrier group's arrival. Iranian officials have not commented on the reports.
In May 2018, after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, Washington hit Tehran with a series of tough banking and energy sanctions, and threatened to slap importers of Iranian crude oil with secondary sanctions in a bid to bring Iranian oil exports down "to zero." Last week, US sanctions waivers to several major importers of Iranian oil expired. On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would be partially discontinuing its obligations under the accord. Tehran has repeatedly warned that any attempt to prevent it from exporting its energy abroad could be met with the closure of the Hormuz Strait, the strategic waterway through which approximately 20 percent of the world's oil trade passes.