WASHINGTON – The aircraft carrier Nimitz is finally going home.
The Pentagon ordered the warship last month to remain in the Middle East over Iranian threats against President Donald J. Trump and other American officials, just three days after announcing that the ship would be returning home to ease growing tensions with Tehran .
Given these immediate tensions, which appear to be easing somewhat, and President Biden looking to renew talks with Iran over the 2015 nuclear deal from which Mr Trump withdrew, three Defense Department officials said Monday the Nimitz and her 5,000-strong crew were ordered Sunday to return to the ship’s homeport in Bremerton, Washington after a longer than usual 10 month deployment.
The Pentagon had been preoccupied with a muscle-building strategy for weeks to prevent Iran and its Shiite proxies in Iraq from attacking American personnel in the Persian Gulf in avenge for the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani. General Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian elite quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed in an American drone attack in January 2020.
The Pentagon then claimed last month – without producing any evidence – that it had discovered new evidence that Iran was targeting Mr Trump in the weeks leading up to its inauguration. Strike planes ordered the Nimitz and her wing to stay near the Persian Gulf just in case.
Shortly after taking office, Biden helpers estimated that it was time to send the Nimitz home. General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of the military’s central command, said last week that American firepower in the region most likely helped deter Iran and its proxies from attack in the dwindling days of the Trump administration.
“By and large, they were able to tell them that this is not the time to provoke war,” General McKenzie said, according to Defense One, one of the publications he was traveling with in the region. “Not everything is likely the result of the military component. I am sure there is some political calculation in Iran to get to a new government and see if things change. “
Indeed, Robert Malley, a seasoned Middle East expert and former Obama administration official, was selected as Mr Biden’s Special Envoy to Iran last week. He will be responsible for convincing Tehran to curb its nuclear program – and stop enriching uranium beyond the limits imposed by a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers – and agree to new negotiations before the United States launches its punitive economic sanctions against Iran cancel.
This prospect has angered key regional allies. Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, last week warned the Biden government not to rejoin the nuclear deal, even if it tightened the terms of the deal. General Kochavi also said he had ordered his armed forces to step up preparations for possible offensive measures against Iran in the coming year.
No decision has been made whether to send another airline to the Middle East to relieve the Nimitz, the three Pentagon officials said Monday. But the Eisenhower airline, which is now operating in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, or the Theodore Roosevelt airline in the Pacific, could be canceled in the coming weeks or months.
The Air Force is also expected to continue deploying B-52 bombers on regular round-trip flights from the United States to the Persian Gulf. Two B-52s flew a 36-hour mission from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana last week – the first during the Biden administration and the third overall this year – 10 days after a similar tandem of bombers took the same route from the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
“It’s still a tense time,” said Vice Adm. John W. Miller, a retired Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet commander who recently visited the Persian Gulf region.