Encounter between US and Iranian ships 'safe and professional', navy says

Bahrain-based fifth fleet responds to Revolutionary Guard statement by saying aircraft shot flares before Iranian vessels conducted ‘gun exercise’

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard said on Saturday that US navy ships came close to its vessels in the Gulf and shot flares.

The USS Nimitz and an accompanying ship drew close to a rocket-bearing Iranian vessel on Friday and sent a helicopter near a number of vessels close to the Resalat oil and gas platform, the Guard said in a statement published by its official news site, Sepah News.

“The Americans made a provocative and unprofessional move by issuing a warning and shooting flares at vessels,” the statement said. “Islam’s warriors, without paying attention to this unconventional and unusual behaviour from the American vessels, continued their mission in the area and the aircraft carrier and accompanying battleship left the area.”

The US navy’s Bahrain-based fifth fleet said the incident happened while one of its helicopters was on a routine patrol in international airspace. The aircraft saw several Guard vessels approaching US ships “at a high rate of speed” and sent out flares after receiving no response when it tried to establish communications, the navy said. That prompted the Iranian boats to halt their approach.

After communications were established, the US saw the Iranians conduct a “gun exercise”, which involved firing weapons into the water away from US ships, said a navy spokesman, Lt Ian M McConnaughey.

The navy described the encounter “as safe and professional”.

Last Tuesday, a US ship fired warning shots when an Iranian vessel in the Gulf came within 150 yards in the first such incident since Donald Trump took office in January, US officials said.

In a statement on that incident, US Naval Forces Central Command said the patrol craft, the Thunderbolt, fired the warning shots in front of the Iranian vessel after it ignored radio calls, flares and the ship’s whistle.

The vessel belonged to the Revolutionary Guard, the statement said, adding that it stopped its unsafe approach after the warning shots were fired.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Iranian boat was armed but its weapons were unmanned. The Thunderbolt was accompanied by other vessels including those from the US coast guard.

Years of mutual animosity had eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year as part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But serious differences remain over Iran’s ballistic missile programme and conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

The Trump administration recently declared that Iran was complying with the nuclear deal, but warned that Tehran was not following the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harass the US navy in the Gulf would be “shot out of the water”.

In January, near the end of Barack Obama’s term, the USS Mahan fired shots toward Iranian fast-attack boats as they neared the destroyer in the Strait of Hormuz.

Also on Saturday, Iran’s parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy held an urgent meeting with deputy foreign minister and senior negotiator Abbas Araghchi to review measures the country may apply in response to sanctions the US Senate approved on Friday and sent to Trump for signing.

Araghchi told state TV the decision was a “hostile” breach of the nuclear deal.

“It is a breach of the deal in articles 26, 28 and 29,” said Araghchi. “A strong answer will be given to the action by the US.”

The articles in question say the US administration, acting consistently with the respective roles of the president and Congress, will refrain from re-imposing sanctions or any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.

The new US legislation imposes mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would also apply sanctions to the Revolutionary Guard and enforce an arms embargo. Democrats said the sanctions would not conflict with the nuclear deal.

On Friday, the US, France, Germany and Britain, who brokered the deal with Iran along with China, Russia and the European Union, said they were raising concerns with the United Nations over Iran’s launch on Thursday of a satellite-carrying rocket.

In a joint statement, they said Iran’s launch was “inconsistent” with a UN security council resolution that enshrined the nuclear deal.

On Saturday Iran’s foreign ministry said the missile launch was part of “domestic policy of the country, deterrent and at service of regional peace and security”.

Staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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