Iran denies harassing US warships in Gulf, warns of clashes

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran  yesterday denied US accusations that its fast-attack boats were “harassing” warships at the mouth of the Gulf, and said Wash-ington would be responsible for any clashes in the key oil shipping route.

US Navy commanders earlier accused Iran of jeopardising international navigation by “harassing” warships passing through the Strait of Hormuz and said future incidents could result in miscalculation and lead to an armed clash.

They spoke after the US aircraft carrier George H W Bush confronted what one of the commanding officers described as two sets of Iranian Navy fast-attack boats that had approached a US-led, five-vessel flotilla as it entered the Strait on Tuesday on a journey from the Indian Ocean into the Gulf.

It was the first time a US carrier entered the narrow waterway, where up to 30 per cent of global oil exports pass, since Presi-dent Donald Trump took office in January pledging a tougher US stance towards Iran.

In Tehran, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of  Iran’s armed forces, said the US claims of the confrontation in the Gulf were based on “false reports or ulterior motives”, the state news agency IRNA reported.

“We emphasize that the Americans would be responsible for any unrest in the Persian Gulf, and again warn that the US military must change its behaviour,” Jazayeri said, without elaborating.

US commanders earlier said Tuesday’s incident, in which the George H W Bush sent helicopter gunships to hover over the  Iranian speedboats as some came as close as 950 yards (870 metres) from the aircraft carrier, ended without a shot being fired.

But it underscored growing tension between the United States and  Iran  since the election of Trump, who has condemn-ed the 2015 nuclear deal that his predecessor Barack Obama and leaders of five other world powers struck with Tehran and labelled the Islamic Republic “the number one terrorist state”.

The encounter with  Iranian Navy boats occur-red as the USS George H W Bush was en route to the northern part of the Gulf to participate in US-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Earlier in March, Iran  disputed the US account of another confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz between its speedboats and a US Navy vessel.

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