Reflecting the expected shift in Biden administration foreign policy priorities away from the Middle East and toward southeast Asia, especially China, the Pentagon has announced Tuesday afternoon that the USS Nimitz has departed its Mideast region of operation.
It had been sent there at the tail-end of the Trump presidency amid ratcheting tensions with Iran, and as the former president reportedly mulled military action to prevent Iran from taking steps to achieve nuclear weapons.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby issued a statement confirming the "USS Nimitz has left Arabian Sea and 5th Fleet after being deployed for over 270 days amid tensions with Iran." The aircraft carrier is now "currently in the Indo-Pacific."
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby says he doesn't have any announcement to make about a replacement U.S. aircraft carrier in the Middle East now that Nimitz has left— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) February 2, 2021
This follows a New York Times report on Monday saying the Nimitz had finally been ordered home to its US West coast base:
The aircraft carrier Nimitz is finally going home.
...With those immediate tensions seeming to ease a bit, and President Biden looking to renew discussions with Iran on the 2015 nuclear accord that Mr. Trump withdrew from, three Defense Department officials said on Monday that the Nimitz and its 5,000-member crew were ordered on Sunday to return to the ship’s home port of Bremerton, Wash., after a longer-than-usual 10-month deployment.
The move is a sign that tensions are fast deescalating as both Tehran and Washington looking for openings to return to the JCPOA.
At the moment the US is requiring Iran to take enrichment back under the caps delineated by the accord, while Tehran is saying Washington must drop sanctions first.
And in related news which also signals de-escalation of tensions in the region, the South Korean tanker crew which Iran's IRGC has been detaining for nearly a month has now reportedly been freed.
"The sailors from a South Korean tanker seized in the Persian Gulf by Iranian troops last month are free to leave the country on humanitarian grounds, Iran’s state TV said Tuesday," according to the AP.
"Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said a legal investigation into the tanker and its captain would continue," the report continued. Iran used the tanker detention to press Seoul over the some $7 billion in assets frozen in South Korean banks due to US-led sanctions; however, it's unclear the degree to which South Korea complied on that front.
But it is clear the release of the tanker and its crew appears a "goodwill gesture" ahead of negotiations over the frozen funds, also which Iran intended as leverage and as a future "warning" if the outcome to those negotiations are not favorable.