Iranian boats provoke US Navy ships

Iranian speedboats swarmed three United States navy ships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz over the weekend, radioing a threat to blow them up and prompting a stiff US warning ahead of President George Bush’s trip to the Middle East, Pentagon officials said on Monday.

”I’m coming at you and you will blow up in a couple of minutes,” a US defence official quoted the Iranian radio transmission as saying.

Crew aboard the five speedboats also dumped boxes into the water in the path of one of the vessels, said a second official, who said nothing apparently came of them.

The incident on Saturday came just days ahead of Bush’s departure on Tuesday for the region, to boost the Israeli-Palestinian peace process while reiterating to allies that Washington continues to view Iran as a threat.

The White House on Monday sternly warned Tehran against ”such provocative actions”.

”We urge the Iranians to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future,” National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said in a terse statement.

And the US State Department said the US will confront any threats from Iran.

”The United States will confront Iranian behaviour where it seeks to do harm either to us or our friends or allies in the region. There is wide support for that within the region,” spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters.

US defence officials, who asked not to be identified, said no shots were fired during the encounter, which occurred on Saturday in international waters as the three US navy ships transited the Strait of Hormuz.

”Five Iranian speedboats pretty much swarmed three US warships as they were transiting through international waters,” the first Pentagon official said.

The speedboats came within a couple of hundred metres of the US vessels, the officials said.

CNN, which first reported on encounter, said the speedboats were believed to be operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The officials would not identify the US navy ships passing through the Strait at the time of the incident, but said one of the warships was a destroyer.

The incident, which occurred at 4am GMT January 6, lasted about 20 minutes, the official said.

The Strait of Hormuz is a crucial choke point for world energy supplies. Except for Saudi Arabian oil exports through the kingdom’s Red Sea outlet, all crude exports from oil-rich Gulf Arab countries pass through the strait — about 20% to 25% of the world’s crude oil.

On March 23 2007, Iran seized 15 British sailors and marines in the Gulf and held them for nearly two weeks, alleging that they had entered Iranian territorial waters.

Britain maintained they had been on a routine anti-smuggling patrol in Iraqi waters under a United Nations mandate. Tehran finally released the sailors on April 4. — AFP



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