Iranian navy looks to extend reach into Atlantic

Tehran is weighing options on how to push its naval presence into the Atlantic Ocean as a way to protect the country's growing interests in that part of the world, Iranian Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari told the state-run news agency Press TV on Sunday. 

“In order to protect the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran and establish security for our country’s trade vessels and oil tankers in free and international waters," Sayyari said in an interview on Sunday. 

"We are ready to extend our presence in these areas and even in the Atlantic Ocean,” the high-ranking Iranian naval officer added. 

Tehran claims the proposed move is strictly defensive, but Iran's shift into the Atlantic could raise temperatures among a number of NATO members in western Europe and the United States. 

While it remains unclear whether the Iranian navy has the means to push its fleet into the Atlantic, the country's military leaders have been heavily investing in its naval capabilities, adding several new submarines and warships to is ever expanding arsenal over the past year. 

Those plans have already included a significant expansion of the country's Soviet-era attack submarine fleet and the addition of long-range missiles to its formidable arsenal of small attack boats that regularly patrol the Straits of Hormuz and other contested waterways in the Gulf. 

Long-term naval expansion plans being eyed by Tehran also include a new sea-based unmanned drone and eventually the development of a fully-functioning aircraft carrier. 

In response, members of the House Armed Services Committee in March set aside millions in the chamber's version of the fiscal 2013 defense spending bill for weapons specifically designed for a potential conflict with Iran. 

A House-Senate version of that legislation, including the weapons funding aimed at the Iranian threat, is expected to be delivered to the White House this week. 

Iran's claims also come just as the United States and its European allies are looking to establish the first phase of a new missile shield in the region. 

In May, NATO approved the initial deployment of the shield, known inside the White House and Pentagon as the European Phased Adaptive Approach program. 

The first phase of the program will include deploying several Navy destroyers equipped with the AEGIS anti-missile weapon in the Atlantic Ocean. 

The missile shield is designed to counter potential ballistic missile attacks, namely those that could possibly be launched from Iran against targets in eastern Europe.