Washington, Tehran at odds over whether U.S. downed Iranian drone

Washington, Tehran at odds over whether U.S. downed Iranian drone
imageWorld16 minutes ago (Jul 19, 2019 02:05PM ET)

(C) Reuters. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrives for a meeting at United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York

By Parisa Hafezi and Steve Holland

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said there was “no doubt” the U.S. Navy had brought down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz this week while Tehran showed video footage that it said disproved the incident even happened.

Trump and his national security adviser, John Bolton, told reporters at the White House they were certain the USS Boxer warship had downed an Iranian pilotless aircraft on Thursday at the Gulf’s strategic waterway.

“No doubt about it, no. We shot it down,” Trump said.

Speaking of Iran, he said the United States hopes “for their sake they don’t do anything foolish. If they do they will pay a price like nobody has ever paid a price.”

Bolton said: “There’s no question that it was an Iranian drone and the USS Boxer took it out yesterday.”

But Iran said all of its drones were accounted for, amid growing international concern that both sides could blunder into a war in the strategic waterway.

Iran’s state television broadcast a video showing aerial views of ships that it said disproved the U.S. assertion. The television station said a drone had captured the footage, which came from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and that timing notations indicated the pilotless aircraft was still filming after Washington said it had been downed.

The episode is the latest test of nerves around the Strait of Hormuz, a major chokepoint for oil tankers. Oil prices rose on Friday because of the tension.

Despite tough talk on both sides and an Iranian downing of a U.S. drone in June, Washington and Tehran have so far shown restraint.

Trump announced on Thursday the Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had destroyed an Iranian drone because it had flown to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of the ship in a “provocative and hostile action.”

A U.S. official said the drone was brought down by electronic jamming.

Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior Iranian armed forces spokesman, was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying there was no report of any “operational response” by the USS Boxer.

“All drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz … returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control,” he said.

Iran and the United States are in a series of disputes over issues including security in the Gulf, Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and U.S. sanctions.

Relations worsened last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 international nuclear deal between world powers and Iran. Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs, in return for lifting sanctions. Economic sanctions have since been imposed again, badly hurting Iran’s economy.

FALTERING DIPLOMACY

Tehran on Thursday signaled a willingness to engage in diplomacy with a modest offer on its nuclear work – ratification of a document prescribing more intrusive nuclear inspections if Washington abandoned its sanctions.

A senior Trump administration official dismissed the offer by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif appeared to have no decision-making ability and that Washington “would not consider anything from him serious,” the official said.

Asked whom the United States would need to hear from in order to have negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program, the official said: “I would say the supreme leader or the president.”

Trump remained open to negotiations with Iran without preconditions on its nuclear program and will maintain a tough economic sanctions regime on Tehran in the meantime, the official said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the United States needed Iran to “come to the table” for negotiations.

Pompeo, speaking at a counter-terrorism summit in Buenos Aires, also repeated an offer from Trump for talks without preconditions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she was concerned about the situation in the Gulf.

“You can’t look at this region without being concerned at the moment,” she said at a news conference. “Every opportunity for diplomatic contact should be attempted to avoid an escalation.”

In the latest development in a standoff between Iran and Britain that has also stoked Gulf tensions, Gibraltar’s supreme court granted a 30-day extension to allow authorities to detain the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 until Aug. 15.

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.

The United States has reimposed sanctions to throttle Iran’s oil trade and pressure Tehran to renegotiate the accord, discuss its ballistic missiles and modify its regional policies.

The United States is struggling to win its allies’ support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes because of fears it will increase tension with Iran, six sources familiar with the matter said.

Washington, Tehran at odds over whether U.S. downed Iranian drone