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Iran Denies US Destroyed Iran Drone    07/19 06:19

   TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran on Friday denied President Donald Trump's 
statement that a U.S. warship destroyed an Iranian drone near the Persian Gulf 
after it threatened the ship --- an incident that marked a new escalation of 
tensions between the countries less than a month after Iran downed an American 
drone in the same waterway and Trump came close to retaliating with a military 
strike.

   The Iranian military said all its drones had returned safely to their bases 
and denied there was any confrontation with a U.S. vessel the previous day.

   "We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else," 
tweeted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

   The strait is at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and serves as the passageway 
for a fifth of all global crude exports; a clash there highlights the risk of 
war between Iran and the U.S.

   Trump on Thursday said the USS Boxer took defensive action after an Iranian 
drone closed to within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored multiple calls to 
stand down.

   Trump blamed Iran for a "provocative and hostile" action and said the U.S. 
responded in self-defense. Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told 
reporters as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that "we have no 
information about losing a drone today."

   Iran's Revolutionary Guard said on its website Friday that it would release 
images from the drone --- taken both before and after the U.S. claimed it was 
downed.

   The Guard said the drone had been carrying out regular surveillance when the 
USS Boxer arrived, and transmitted photos of the ship. The statement added that 
Guard forces continue to carefully monitor all movements of foreigners --- 
especially "the terrorist forces" of the U.S. and the British in the strategic 
Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf.

   The Guard did not say when the images would be released.

   After Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and 
imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, the Iranians have pushed back on the 
military front, shooting down a U.S. drone on June 20.

   Also in the past weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil 
tankers that the U.S. has blamed on Iran, and a tense encounter between the 
Guard and the British navy. Iran has denied involvement in the attacks or the 
British naval encounter.

   The U.S. has also sent thousands of additional troops and increased its 
security presence in the region.

   Adding to the economic pressure on Tehran, the Treasury Department said 
Thursday it was imposing sanctions on what it called a network of front 
companies and agents involved in helping Iran buy sensitive materials for its 
nuclear program. It said the targeted individuals and entities are based in 
Iran, China and Belgium.

   The Pentagon said Thursday's incident happened at 10 a.m. local time in 
international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the 
Persian Gulf. The Boxer is among several U.S. Navy ships in the area, including 
the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the 
nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks.

   Neither Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the Boxer destroyed the 
drone. CNN reported that the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down 
rather than hitting it with a missile.

   In Tehran, the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted military spokesman 
Gen. Abolfazl Shekari as saying that "all Iranian drones that are in the 
Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one which the U.S. 
president mentioned, have ... returned to their bases."

   The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz 
in the past, and it's not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a U.S. 
warship.

   In December, about 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the USS 
John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group through the strait as 
Associated Press journalists on board watched. One small vessel launched what 
appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the U.S. ships.

   Other transits have seen the Iranians fire rockets away from American 
warships or test-fire their machine guns. The Guard's small fast boats often 
cut in front of the massive carriers, running dangerously close to running into 
them in "swarm attacks." The Guard boats are often armed with bomb-carrying 
drones and sea-to-sea and surface-to-sea missiles.

   Thursday's incident was the latest in a series of events that raised 
U.S.-Iran tensions since early May when Washington accused Tehran of 
threatening U.S. forces and interests in Iraq and in the Gulf.

   In response, the U.S. accelerated the deployment of the Lincoln and its 
strike group to the Arabian Sea and deployed four B-52 long-range bombers to 
the Gulf state of Qatar. It has since deployed additional Patriot air defense 
missile batteries in the Gulf region.

   Shortly after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone aircraft in June, Trump 
ordered a retaliatory military strike but called it off at the last moment, 
saying the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, 
which did not cost any U.S. lives.

   Iran claimed the U.S. drone violated its airspace; the Pentagon denied this.

   Zarif said Thursday that Iran and the U.S. were only "a few minutes away 
from a war" after Iran downed the American drone. He spoke to U.S.-based media 
on the sidelines of his visit to the U.N.

   "We live in a very dangerous environment," he said. "The United States has 
pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss."

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

   Earlier Thursday, Iran said the Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its 
crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released 
video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had 
vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend.

   The announcement cleared up the fate of the missing ship but raised a host 
of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in one 
of the world's most critical petroleum shipping routes.


(KA)

 
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