US threatens to shoot down Iranian drones that come to close to its ships

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The United States has threatened to destroy any Iranian drones flying too closely to its ships and said it had “clear evidence” that it shot one down in a festering stand-off with Tehran in the world’s most important oil shipping zone.

Key points:

  • The Pentagon said in a statement that the incident took place about 10:00am local time
  • Mr Trump has called on other countries to condemn Iran and protect their own ships
  • Iran declared late yesterday it had seized a Norwegian oil tanker in the Persian Gulf

President Donald Trump said there was “no doubt” the US Navy had brought down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz this week.

Iran denied losing one of its drones to US forces, however, with its Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi tweeting that: “We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else.”

Hours later, a senior official from US President Donald Trump’s administration warned that if Iranian drones “fly too close to our ships, they’ll continue to be shot down”.

Mr Trump claimed a US warship had destroyed the Iranian drone after the aircraft threatened the ship by flying within 900 metres of it.

He said the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, took “defensive action” when the drone ignored “multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew”.

“The drone was immediately destroyed,” Mr Trump said.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters.”

After Mr Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal with world powers last year and imposed economic sanctions against Tehran, the Iranians have pushed back on the military front in recent weeks, with Washington accusing Tehran of threatening American forces and interests in the region.

A Saegheh drone equipped with four bombs sits in a warehouse.

Calls for a diplomatic solution

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US needed Iran to “come to the table” for negotiations.

“The Iranians continue to say they will talk about it, but only if the United States does something,” Mr Pompeo told reporters at a counter-terrorism summit in Buenos Aires.

“We need them to come to the table, it’s the right way to resolve these challenges,” he said.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, suggested in New York as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that Iran could immediately ratify an agreement to allow broader checks of its nuclear facilities by UN inspectors if the US dropped its sanctions.

Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif smiles and he prepares to address the UN.

Mr Zarif blamed Washington for the escalation and accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through sanctions.

China urged Washington to consider the offer, calling it “a positive signal that Iran is willing to seek a compromise solution.”

Mr Pompeo reaffirmed that the drone had been brought down, stating that “the fact the foreign minister Zarif either didn’t know or lied about it I can’t account for.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin that “you can’t look at this region without being concerned at the moment.” 

“Every opportunity for diplomatic contact should be attempted to avoid an escalation.”

US demand release of vessel seized by Iran

Iran declared late yesterday it had seized a Norwegian oil tanker in the Persian Gulf.

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The United States demanded Iran immediately release the vessel, and a US military commander in the region said the United States would work “aggressively” to ensure free passage of vessels through the vital waterway.

Iran played down the seizure of the ship, which it said was a small vessel that was smuggling oil.

The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters days ago.

“We do this (inspecting ships) every day,” Iran’s Press TV quoted Mr Zarif as saying.

“It was a small ship used to smuggle 1 million litres, not 1 million barrels of crude oil.”

Revolutionary Guard Commander-in-Chief Hossein Salami said Iran had adopted a defensive strategy amid the tensions, but warned that “if our enemies make any mistakes  our strategy can become an offensive one”.

Iran blamed for series of tanker attacks

An aerial view of an oil tanker with flames and black smoke coming from one side.

This is the latest in a series of events that have seen tensions between the US and Iran skyrocket.

The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil artery. Tehran rejects the allegations.

In June, Iran shot down a US military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile.

Iran said the drone was in its airspace, but Washington said it was in international airspace.

Mr Trump said at the time the United States had come close to launching a military strike on Iran in retaliation for the downing of the drone.

Relations between the two countries have worsened since last year, when Mr Trump abandoned a 2015 deal between world powers and Iran in which Tehran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.

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