Date: Jul 19, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
U.S. assault ship downs Iranian drone: Trump
All drones 'safely returned': Iran armed forces
WASHINGTON/DUBAI: U.S. President Donald Trump said the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz Thursday after the aircraft threatened the ship by flying within 1,000 yards of it.

“The [USS] Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone which had closed into a very, very near distance, approximately 1,000 yards,” Trump said at the White House.

After ignoring multiple calls to stand down, “the drone was immediately destroyed,” Trump added, and called on other countries to condemn what he said were Iran’s attempts to disrupt the freedom of navigation and global commerce in the strategic waterway in the Arabian Gulf region.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran, against vessels operating in international waters,” Trump said. “I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the Strait and to work with us in the future.”

Earlier, the United States demanded Iran immediately release a vessel it seized in the Gulf and a U.S. military commander in the region said the United States would work “aggressively” to ensure free passage of vessels through the vital waterway.

Responding to an announcement by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that it had seized a foreign ship smuggling fuel, the U.S. State Department insisted Iran had to free the ship and its crew and stop harassing vessels in and around the Strait of Hormuz.

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

“The United States strongly condemns the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with safe passage in and around the Strait of Hormuz,” a State Department spokesperson told Reuters.

“Iran must cease this illicit activity and release the reportedly seized crew and vessel immediately.”

Iranian state TV aired footage of a vessel called “RIAH.” The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters days ago.

“We do this [inspecting ships] every day. These are people who smuggle our oil,” Iran’s Press TV quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying, adding that “it was a small ship used to smuggle one million liters - not one million barrels - of crude oil.” The Guard said the impounded ship was in the area of Larak Island in the Gulf and had 12 foreign crew. Britain said the tanker was not British-flagged.

Oil prices jumped after news of the seizure amid rising tensions between Tehran and the West over the safety of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital gateway for energy exports. However they later fell on weakness in U.S. equities markets and an expectation that crude output would rise in the Gulf of Mexico following last week’s hurricane in the region.

Since mid-May, attacks on tankers near Hormuz have unsettled crucial shipping lanes that link Middle Eastern oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond.

Iran denies involvement but has threatened to respond robustly to U.S. sanctions that have followed Trump’s abandonment of a 2015 treaty in which Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy state subsidies and the fall of its currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighboring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.

President Hassan Rouhani urged Europe to step up its efforts to salvage the pact in a phone call with French counterpart Emanuel Macron. Russia, another party to the pact, also said Europe should be clearer in its position on the agreement.

Describing Tehran’s recent nuclear pronouncements as “unacceptable,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said other parties to the deal expected Tehran to uphold its side of the accord.

But Tehran says it will continue to reduce compliance with the accord until it is allowed to resume normal oil sales and has demanded that European parties to the deal rein in Washington.

The United States says it wants to increase pressure on Iran to renegotiate the accord, discuss its ballistic missile program and modify its behavior in the Gulf, where Washington is allied to several Arab states opposed to Iran.

Iran’s clerical rulers have ruled out renegotiating the nuclear deal or holding talks on its missile program, which it says is purely defensive.

U.S. Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie meanwhile said Washington was talking to several countries about ensuring freedom of navigation in the Gulf and would work “aggressively” to find a solution to enable free passage.

He was speaking in Riyadh at a news conference with General Prince Fahd bin Turki, commander of an Arab coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Washington has beefed up its military presence and the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, says Gulf Arab states have stepped up patrols.

Revolutionary Guard commander-in-chief Hossein Salami said Iran had adopted a defensive strategy but warned that “if our enemies make any mistakes ... our strategy can become an offensive one,” Iranian media reported.

A top Pentagon official said the United States was not aiming to set up a military coalition against Iran with its new security initiative in the Gulf, but simply “shining a flashlight” in the region to deter attacks on commercial ships.

Under a plan detailed on July 9, the United States would provide coordinating vessels and lead surveillance efforts while participants in the coalition patrolled nearby waters and escorted commercial vessels with their nation’s flags.

The United States also imposed new sanctions Thursday on five people and seven entities in connection to Iran’s nuclear program and non-proliferation matters, the Treasury Department said.

All drones 'safely returned': Iran armed forces

TEHRAN: Iran's armed forces denied Friday the United States had downed one of their drones, saying all such aircraft had "safely returned" to their bases, Tasnim news agency reported.

U.S. President Donald Trump claimed an American naval vessel downed an Iranian drone that threatened the ship as it was entering the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

"Despite Trump's baseless and delusional claims, all of [Iran's] drones... have safely returned to their bases," said armed forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi.

"There have been no reports of a confrontation with the American USS Boxer" naval vessel, he added, quoted by Tasnim.

Trump said Thursday the USS Boxer "took defensive action" against an Iranian aircraft as it was "threatening the safety" of the vessel and its crew.

The drone was "immediately destroyed" after it approached within 914 meters of the Boxer, Trump said.

Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi denied having lost any drone recently and hinted that the U.S. could have downed their own "by mistake."

The apparent confrontation between the two foes comes after Tehran last month shot down an American surveillance drone it said was flying in its airspace, a claim denied by the United States.