Iran denies Trump claim that US destroyed Iranian drone
By AMIR VAHDAT and DAVID RISING Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran said Friday it can provide images that disprove President Donald Trump's statement that a U.S. warship destroyed an Iranian drone near the Persian Gulf after it threatened the ship. The incident 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 destroyed.
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 with world powers 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.
The others involved in the deal — Germany, France, Britain, Russia, China and the European Union — have been struggling to keep it alive, and Iran has begun breaching some of its limitations to put pressure on them to find a solution to offset crippling American sanctions.
Following remarks in New York from Zarif suggesting that Iran could immediately ratify an agreement to allow broader inspections of its nuclear facilities by U.N. inspectors if the U.S. dropped its sanctions, China on Friday urged Washington to consider the offer.
Zarif's statement sends "a positive signal that Iran is willing to seek a compromise solution," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
In an attempt to defuse another issue, the head of Gibraltar's government, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, said he met with Iranian officials earlier in the week in London to discuss the seizure of an Iranian supertanker near the British overseas territory.
The tanker was seized July 4 on suspicion it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, further stoking tensions over the Persian Gulf. Picardo characterized his meeting with the Iranians as "constructive and positive."
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.
The U.S. benchmark for crude oil rose 77 cents on Friday, or 1.4%, to $56.07 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange following the drone claims. Brent, the international oil standard, picked up $1.03, or 1.7%, to $62.96 per barrel.
Thursday's incident was 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.
Rising reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Ian Phillips in New York, Ken Moritsugu in Beijing and Carlo Piovano in London contributed to this report.