TEHRAN, Iran - Iran will target U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf should a war between the two countries ever break out, the naval chief of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard warned Tuesday as the country completes work on a large-scale mock-up of a U.S. carrier.
The remarks by Adm. Ali Fadavi, who heads the hard-line guard's naval forces, were a marked contrast to moderate President Hassan Rouhani's recent outreach policies toward the West - a reminder of the competing viewpoints within Tehran.
Iran is building a simple replica of the aircraft carrier Nimitz in a shipyard in the southern port of Bandar Abbas to be used in future military exercises, an Iranian newspaper confirmed last month.
Fadavi was quoted Tuesday by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying the immense size of the U.S. carriers made them an "easy target." He said contingency plans to target American carriers were a priority for the guard's naval forces.
"Aircraft carriers are the symbol of America's military might," he said. "It's natural that we want to sink the carriers."
The Revolutionary Guard's naval forces are separate from the main Iranian navy. They are primarily based in and around the gulf and include a number of missile boats and fast-attack vessels.
The commander said the guard's navy had already carried out exercises targeting mock-ups of American warships. In one case, he said, it took 50 seconds to destroy one of the simulated warships.
Tasnim, another semiofficial news agency close to the guard, reported that "an investigation" had found that the Nimitz-class carriers used by the United States could be seriously damaged or destroyed if 24 missiles were fired simultaneously.
An American Navy official in the gulf was dismissive of the Iranian claims.
"Whatever Iran hopes to do with the mock-up, it is likely to have zero impact on U.S. Navy operations in the gulf," said Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the Navy's Fifth Fleet, based across the gulf in the island kingdom of Bahrain.
"Firing weapons at a stationary structure floating on pontoons is not a realistic representation of having the capability to target a 100,000-ton warship ... maneuvering at speeds in excess of 30 knots," he said.