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U.S. deploying carrier strike group to send 'message' to Iran

National security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn't say what Iran had specifically done to trigger the action.

The United States is sending a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a "clear and unmistakable message" to Iran, President Donald Trump's national security adviser announced Sunday night.

While John Bolton said the U.S. wasn't seeking to go to war with Iran, "we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces."

He added: "Any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force."

Bolton said the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and an unspecified bomber task force were being sent to U.S. Central Command's region of responsibility, which covers the Middle East. According to the Navy, the strike group left Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, on April 1 on a regularly scheduled deployment.

The strike group consists of the Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier; the USS Leyte Gulf, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; Carrier Air Wing Seven; and destroyers from Destroyer Squadron Two.

In a brief statement, Bolton didn't say what specific actions or provocations the United States was responding to.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also declined to cite specifics, saying Sunday night that the move was unrelated to the deadly violence over the weekend in the Gaza Strip, where Iran is widely reported to fund Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

"It's something we’ve been working on for a little while," Pompeo told reporters aboard his flight to Europe.

"It is absolutely the case that we have seen escalatory actions from the Iranians, and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests," he said. "If these actions take place — if they do by some third-party proxy, a militia group, Hezbollah — we will hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for that."

The announcement comes two days after the Trump administration imposed new limits on Iran's nuclear activities. Trump said last month that the United States would no longer exempt any nation from U.S. sanctions if it buys Iranian oil.

NBC News has previously reported that Bolton, who has long been considered a hawk on Iran, has clashed with officials at the State Department who favor maintaining all of the waivers.

Last month, the Trump administration designated the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, the first time the United States has placed the designation on part of another country's government. The designation categorizes Iran's military alongside groups like ISIS, al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas.