TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran plans to expand its naval presence in international waters as part of efforts to boost its military and extend its reach as far as Antarctica, the head of the country's navy said Saturday.
The comments from Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari reflect Iran's aspirations to transform its navy into a force capable of sustained operations in the open ocean. They also are seen as a response to America's beefed-up naval deployment near the Islamic Republic's coasts in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy's 5th fleet is based in Bahrain - across the gulf from Iran.
"We have the capability to hoist Iran's flag in different regions from the North Poles to the South Pole and we are preparing plans for a presence near the South Pole," state Press TV quoted Sayyari as saying. "However, we will never enter the maritime borders of others and we will not allow anybody to enter even a centimeter into our territorial waters."
Earlier this month, Sayyari said Iran aims to put warships in international waters off the U.S. coast "within the next few years." He also said Iran's navy would be "present anywhere in international waters in order to safeguard the Islamic Republic's interests."
The Iranian navy has steadily expanded its international presence since 2008 when it began patrolling in the Gulf of Aden to protect commercial vessels owned or leased by Iran against piracy. Last year, two Iranian warships for the first time in decades traveled through the Suez Canal, extending Iran's naval reach to the Mediterranean Sea. Now, some Iranian ships also operate in the northern Indian Ocean.
Iran's deputy navy chief, Admiral Abbas Zamini, said in June that Iran has begun to design its first nuclear submarine.
Iran and the West are odds over Tehran's nuclear program. The U.S. suspects it is aimed at a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran denies.