On Sunday, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said that the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln, her destroyer escorts and a bomber task force to the Middle East as a warning to Tehran.
In a statement, Bolton said that the deployment is intended "to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force."
As of Thursday, the USS Lincoln and her escorts were located in the Adriatic Sea, hosting political leaders from Albania for a shipboard tour. Bolton indicated that the Lincoln would be redeployed to the Central Command area of operations, which covers the Middle East.
"The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces," Bolton said.
The White House views Tehran as a destabilizing force in the Middle East: the Iranian government is widely believed to provide support for the Houthi rebel side in Yemen's civil war, and it is the main backer of Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization with deep roots in Lebanon.
President Donald Trump recently designated Tehran's Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, the first time that the United States has ever placed a government entity on this list. In a statement last month, the president asserted that the IRGC "actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft" and is "the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign."
Through a strict sanctions regime, the Trump administration is attempting to cut off Iran's oil exports, which are the largest single source of revenue for the Iranian government. The effort has been successful: since sanctions were reimposed last year, Iranian oil export volumes have fallen from 2.5 million barrels per day to one million barrels per day (or perhaps less). Tehran has ceased publishing export statistics, but industry analysts told Reuters last week that volumes for May will likely be in the range of 600,000-700,000.
Bolton said Sunday that the Lincoln's deployment was made "in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings." In response to the tightening sanctions measures, Iran has previously threatened to disrupt shipping at the Strait of Hormuz, the key chokepoint between the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. An American official told CNN that the threats Bolton referred to Sunday were "against U.S. maritime and land-based forces" in the region.