By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday that a U.S. Navy ship had “destroyed” an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after the aircraft threatened the ship, in the latest incident to stir tensions in the Gulf.
Trump told an event in the White House that the drone had flown to within 1,000 yards (meters) of the USS Boxer and had ignored “multiple calls to stand down.”
“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters. The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests,” Trump said.
“The drone was immediately destroyed,” he added.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had taken “defensive action” against a drone, but did not mention if the aircraft was Iranian. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the incident took place on Thursday morning as the Boxer was moving into the Strait of Hormuz.
Tensions in the Gulf region are high, with fears that the United States and Iran could stumble into war.
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.
Iran in June shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile. Iran says the drone was in its airspace, but Washington says it was in international skies.
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 U.S. drone.
Relations between the two countries have worsened since last year when 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.
Earlier on Thursday, 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.
Iran played down the seizure of the ship, which it said was a small vessel that was smuggling oil.
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: “It was a small ship used to smuggle 1 million liters – not 1 million barrels – of crude oil.”
Tension in the Strait of Hormuz: https://tmsnrt.rs/32tzK6J
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington and Parisa Hafezi and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Peter Cooney)