By Barbara Starr
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln arrived in the Arabian Sea on Thursday, Navy officials said, a likely prelude to testing Iran's recent warning against sending a U.S. carrier through the Strait of Hormuz.
The Lincoln joins the USS Carl Vinson, already in the region, returning the U.S. Navy its standard two-carrier presence there. The carrier USS John Stennis left in the past few days and is now traveling back through the western Pacific.
The Lincoln's arrival puts into place all the elements for a U.S. carrier to travel back into the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz for the first time since recent tensions with Iran escalated.
U.S. military officials have told CNN the United States will continue its long-standing military commitment to having an aircraft carrier in the Gulf, but will not say when the transit will take place in light of security concerns about Iran.
Several weeks ago, as the Stennis left the Gulf, Iranian officials warned the United States not to send in another carrier. In recent years, the United States has kept one carrier in the Gulf and one in the North Arabian Sea for much of the time.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that the U.S. naval and military presence in the region will not change and the current level is sufficient to deal with any situation that could arise.
"We have always maintained a very strong presence in that region," Panetta said Wednesday. "We have a Navy fleet located there. We have a military presence in that region. And ... we have continually maintained a strong presence in the region to make very clear that we were going to do everything possible to help secure the peace in that part of the world."
A senior U.S. official acknowledged the Pentagon continues to see the Iranian naval forces controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps inside the Persian Gulf as more aggressive than regular naval forces.
U.S. military intelligence has been tracking the record of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders in the region and remains concerned about whether they are all firmly under the control of the most senior commanders in Teheran, the official said.
Out of concern that a confrontation could escalate unnecessarily, the United States recently suggested that a direct channel of communication be opened between the two governments.