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Iran navy could prowl U.S. coast

TEHRAN - Iran raised the prospect on Tuesday of sending military ships close to the United States' Atlantic coast, in what would be a major escalation of tensions between the long-standing adversaries.

"Like the arrogant powers that are present near our marine borders, we will also have a powerful presence close to American marine borders," the head of the Navy, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 31st anniversary of the start of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, Sayyari gave no details of when such a deployment could happen or the number or type of vessels to be used.

The declaration occurs just weeks after Turkey said it would host a NATO early warning radar system which will help spot missile threats from outside Europe, including potentially from Iran. The decision has angered Tehran which had enjoyed close relations with Ankara.

And it comes a few months after Iran sent warships through the Suez canal, after the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the first time the Islamic Republic had deployed navy vessels in the Mediterranean.

"When we are in the Gulf of Mexico, we will establish direct contact with the United States," Ali Fadavi, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, was quoted in press reports as saying. "In the view of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the presence of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf is illegitimate and makes no sense."

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to stop it getting nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is developing nuclear arms saying its atomic program is for purely peaceful purposes.

Iran has dismissed the threats, warning that it will respond by hitting U.S. interests in the Gulf and Israel if any such attack happened.

Analysts say Tehran could retaliate by launching hit-and-run strikes in the Gulf and by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the waterway where about 40 percent of all traded oil passes.

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