Amid ongoing high-level diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, it’s a symbol of underlying mistrust.
Commercial satellite images obtained by CNN reveal that Iran is constructing a large-scale replica of a U.S. military aircraft carrier, complete with fake U.S-style airplanes, near the southern port city of Bandar Abbas.
The mock supercarrier seems to have been modeled off of an American Nimitz-class (CVN 68) carrier, down to the number “68” painted on the flight deck, though its intended use remains a mystery.
According to one U.S. official, the mock-up is more akin to a Hollywood set than an actual warship.
The U.S. government does not believe the carrier is functional, or that Iran is even capable of building an aircraft carrier.
The same official told CNN’s Barbara Starr that while the purpose of the fake carrier is unknown, Iran may be planning to destroy it in a propaganda move. The Iranian government has blown up target barges in the past and aired the footage on its state-run media.
“If this is all for strategic effect,” noted the official, “then with all eyes on the construction that seems to fizzle.”
Nimitz-class carriers are the centerpiece of U.S. naval forces, and the largest warships in the world. Few countries have nuclear-powered carriers in their fleets.
The revelation that Iran is constructing this mock carrier comes at a potentially pivotal moment in U.S.-Iranian relations.
Back in November, negotiations between Iran and a coalition of countries that includes the United States brought about an interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran agreed to roll back parts of the program in exchange for an end to certain economic sanctions.
Negotiations on a larger deal are ongoing.
On Thursday, in a message to the Iranian people to commemorate the Persian new year, President Barack Obama said he is “committed to diplomacy” with their country.
But amid the softened rhetoric, there is lingering mistrust in both countries
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the American Jewish Congress in New York on Wednesday that she is “personally skeptical that the Iranians would follow through and deliver” on the November deal.
And in January, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that the Obama administration has been mischaracterizing the terms of the agreement.
For now, the outcome of these diplomatic efforts and the fate of the fake aircraft carrier remain uncertain.