The program is widely thought to be secretly developing nuclear arms, which Iran denies. The Iranian currency, the rial, plunged to a record low against the U.S. dollar, reportedly triggering a run on banks by Iranians anxious to convert their savings into the American currency before the exchange rate worsens.
Gen. Ataollah Salehi warned that Iran would take unspecified action if a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Stennis, which leads a strike group of five warships, reenters the gulf.
"We recommend and warn the aircraft carrier not to return to its previous position in the Persian Gulf," Press TV, a state-run English-language satellite channel, quoted Salehi as saying. "We are not in the habit of repeating a warning, and we warn only once."
The United States rejected the warning, declaring that "the deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf will continue as it has for decades. These are regularly scheduled movements in accordance with our long-standing commitments to the security and stability of the region," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to minimize the threat, portraying it as a bid by Iran to divert its people's attention from their worsening economic plight and growing international isolation.
Salehi's threat is the most aggressive of a series of saber-rattling statements that Iran has issued since November, when the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran could be working secretly on a nuclear warhead for a ballistic missile.
By saying that Iran would not issue the United States another warning, Salehi's statement appeared to box in Tehran, limiting its diplomatic options and opening the regime to ridicule at home if it fails to make good on its pledge to act if the Stennis returns.
The latest frictions follow threats by Iran to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passageway at the gulf's southern end, if the West imposes an oil embargo on Iran, a move that the European Union is expected to take later this month.
Iran Jails Former Leader's Daughter
An Iranian court on Tuesday sentenced the daughter of the country's former president to six months in prison for spreading what it called "propaganda against the Islamic system," the Mehr news agency reported.
The court also barred Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, from engaging in any political, cultural, or media activities for five years.
was the latest move by Iranian leaders to halt potential dissent ahead of planned parliamentary elections in March.
The vote would be the first ballot since a disputed presidential vote in 2009 that sparked a vicious crackdown on opponents.
Hashemi, a former parliament member and outspoken critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been active in opposition
politics and was briefly detained last year after being accused of chanting antigovernment slogans at a banned rally in Tehran.
- New York Times