US manned guns and were 'very close' to firing on Iranian ships
Update: Iran's Foreign Ministry downplays confrontation, says incident was 'something normal'
US Navy warships over the weekend came "very close" to shooting at Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels, which American officials say provoked US ships in international waters, according to CNN.
"US officials are confirming to CNN that five Iranian Revolutionary guard boats, in their words, 'harassed and provoked' three US Navy warships sailing in the Strait of Hormuz," reports CNN's Barbara Starr. "One of those Iranian boats came within 200 yards of a Navy warship."
The Iranian boats had also transmitted threats via radio, according to officials.
"According to the sources we have spoken to," Starr continued, "the Iranians made threatening moves and threatening radio transmissions. One of those transmissions was...'I am coming at you, you will explode in a couple of minutes.'"
CNN's website reports that "one of the Iranian ships had been dropping white boxes into the water in front of the US ships."
Following the radio transmission, a Navy ship had prepared to fire on an Iranian vessel.
"This official also tells CNN that when that radio transmission was heard, the Navy went to manning its positions, its gun positions on those ships," Starr reports, "and that they were very close to shooting at one of the Iranian boats. In fact the were ready to shoot, the orders had been given when the Iranians suddenly turned away."
No shots were fired, and there were no injuries.
"It is the most serious provocation of this sort that we've seen yet," a Pentagon official told the Associated Press. He added that the Iranian boats turned away "literally at the very moment that US forces were preparing to open fire."
But a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry on Monday downplayed the confrontation, suggesting the Iranian boats had not recognized the US vessels as American.
"That is something normal that takes place every now and then for each party, and it (the problem) is settled after identification of the two parties," Mohammed Ali Hosseini told the state news agency IRNA.
The incident was "similar to past ones" that were resolved "once the two sides recognized each other," he added.
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said he was not aware of any plans to lodge a formal protest with the Iranian government.
"Without specific reference to this incident in the Strait of Hormuz, the United States will confront Iranian behavior where it seeks to do harm either to us or to our friends and allies in the region," McCormack told reporters. "There is wide support for that within the region and certainly that's not going to change."
AP reports the confrontation occurred about 5 a.m. local time Sunday as a US Navy cruiser, destroyer and frigate were transiting the strait on their way into the Persian Gulf.
"Five small boats were acting in a very aggressive way, charging the ships, dropping boxes in the water in front of the ships and causing our ships to take evasive maneuvers," the Pentagon official said.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard sailors last March captured 15 British sailors and held them for nearly two weeks.
The 15 sailors from HMS Cornwall, including one woman, were captured on March 23. Iran claims the crew, operating in a small patrol craft, had intruded into Iranian waters — a claim denied by Britain.
(with wire reports)
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