BUSH CASTIGATES IRAN, CALLING NAVAL CONFRONTATION ‘PROVOCATIVE ACT’
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thom Shanker
New York Times
January 9, 2008
WASHINGTON -- President Bush chastised Iran on Tuesday for committing a “provocative act” by confronting United States Navy warships in the Persian Gulf over the weekend. The Pentagon released video showing Iranian speedboats maneuvering around the American convoy.
“We viewed it as a provocative act,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden, just hours before he left for a weeklong trip to the Middle East. “It is a dangerous situation, and they should not have done it, pure and simple.”
The episode took place Sunday in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and was initially described by American officials on Monday. They said five armed Iranian speedboats approached three United States Navy warships in international waters, then maneuvered aggressively as radio threats were issued that the American ships would be blown up.
The confrontation ended without shots fired or injuries.
The video runs just over four minutes and, according to Pentagon officials, was shot from the bridge of the guided missile destroyer Hopper. It supported the American version of events, by showing Iranian speedboats maneuvering around and among the Navy warships, quite close to the convoy.
“I am coming to you,” a heavily accented voice says in English. “You will explode after a few minutes.”
Navy officials said the voice was recorded from the internationally recognized bridge-to-bridge radio channel.
An American sailor then is heard repeating the threat, stating, “He says, ‘You will explode after a few minutes.’” The American is also heard identifying the Navy vessel as a “coalition warship” and announcing: “I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law. I intend no harm.”
Iranian officials have played down the encounter, but administration officials say they believe that Iran was trying to provoke the United States on the eve of the president’s visit to the Middle East. Mr. Bush said pointedly on Tuesday that he would use the trip to remind American friends and allies in the region that Iran poses a danger.
“I’m going to remind them what I said in that press conference when I sat there and answered some of your questions,” Mr. Bush said.
“Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat, and Iran will continue to be a threat if they are allowed to learn how to enrich uranium,” he added. “And so I’m looking forward to, you know, making it clear that the United States of America sees clearly the threats of this world, and we intend to work with our friends and allies to make that part of the world more secure.”
Mr. Bush made his comments, his first on the event, during an appearance intended to put a spotlight on the first anniversary of his speech announcing a troop buildup in Iraq.
After conducting a videoconference with combat commanders and members of civilian “provincial reconstruction teams,” he sounded upbeat about progress in Iraq, saying that 2007, particularly the end of the year, had been “incredibly successful beyond anybody’s expectations.”
Mr. Bush has repeatedly said he will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. But his efforts to convince the world that Iran is, in fact, a nuclear threat, have grown more complicated since the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate, or N.I.E., that concluded that Iran had abandoned its efforts to enrich uranium.
Mr. Bush conceded that the report had complicated his efforts. “One of the problems we have is that the intelligence report on Iran sent a mixed signal,” he said.
Mr. Bush will visit three Gulf states -- Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates -- during his stay in the Middle East. Experts on Iran said the episode in the Strait of Hormuz gave Mr. Bush an opening to press his message that Iran is a danger.
“I think he’s realized that a lot of the international steam on Iran has been lost in the wake of the N.I.E.,” said Michael Jacobson, an expert on Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research organization in Washington. “I think he’s doing what he can to try to refocus the international community on the dangers that Iran poses.”
The video may also help Mr. Bush make his case.
While it is difficult to judge exact distances, Pentagon officials said at least one Iranian boat came within about 200 yards of the Hopper, a distance that could have been covered in a matter of seconds at top speed.
In the tape, horns are sounded, and the American crew member also radios to the Iranian vessels: “Inbound small craft: You are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is not known. Your intentions are unclear.”
The American warns the Iranians that if they do not “alter course immediately to remain clear,” then the small boat will be “subject to defensive measures.”
Pentagon officials said the commander of the Hopper had been on the verge of issuing an order to fire on the Iranian speedboat with a high-powered machine gun when the Iranian craft suddenly steered away.
AUDIO TAPES APPEAR TO CONFIRM IRANIAN THREAT
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)
January 9, 2008
The Pentagon has released a video and audio tape that appears to confirm its charge that Iranian speedboats swarmed U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz and radioed a threat to blow them up.
The video, which the Pentagon said was taken from the bridge of the destroyer USS Hopper, showed fast boats approaching the warships at high speeds and racing around the Hopper, the USS Port Royal, and the USS Ingraham.
A man's voice is heard in an audio recording speak in English amid a sailor's urgent warnings to stay clear of the ship.
"I am coming to you . . . You will explode in a few minutes,'' the voice is heard to say.
The Pentagon has said that two of five Iranian speedboats also dropped white floating boxes in the path of the Ingraham, but that was not evident in the four minute 20-second video file.
The blue-hulled speedboats appear first as small objects on the horizon, approaching the Hopper.
A sailor in the bridge of the destroyer is seen in the video picking up a radio handset and identifying his vessel as a coalition warship engaged in a transit in international waters.
"You are approaching coalition warships in international waters,'' he says as the ship's horns begin to sound.
"Establish communications, identify yourself, and state your intentions. Over.''
The video then jumps to shots of the speedboats circling and darting among the two trailing U.S. warships -- the Port Royal, a cruiser, and the Ingraham, a frigate.
The Pentagon has said that the speedboats were believed to belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy, but no Iranian flags or markings were apparent on them in the video tape.
The U.S. sailor in the video refers to them as five unidentified small craft.
The video ends but the audio continues with the sound of the man's voice saying, “I am coming to you."
The same voice as the sailor seen in the video is heard warning: "Inbound small craft, you are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is not known, your intentions are unclear . . .
"Establish communications now, and alter course immediately to remain clear,'' he said.
"We request you alter course immediately to remain clear.''
At that point, the other voice is heard to say: "You will explode in a few minutes.''
U.S. President George W. Bush blamed Tehran for the "provocative'' face-off.
"We viewed it as a provocative act. It is a dangerous situation and they should not have done it, pure and simple,'' Mr. Bush declared in his first public remarks on the incident.
"My message today to the Iranians is, they shouldn't have done what they did,'' he said.
"I don't know what their thinking was, but I'm telling you what I think it was, I think it was a provocative act.''
Iran denied the U.S. charges that its patrol boats had threatened to blow up the American ships.
"What happened between the Guards and foreign vessels was an ordinary identification,'' Ali Reza Tangsiri, commander of the Guards' naval forces in the region, told the Mehr news agency.
He said the Guards' naval forces had a right to monitor and identify "any vessel entering Persian Gulf waters" to the northwest.
Middle East news
VIDEO OF IRAN ‘ATTACK’ ON THREE U.S. WARSHIPS RELEASED BY PENTAGON
January 9, 2008
The Pentagon released dramatic footage last night showing how American warships were seconds away from opening fire on Iranian gunboats that swarmed around a U.S. Navy squadron as it entered the crowded Strait of Hormuz on Sunday.
As the Iranian patrol boats closed in, a voice threatened over the radio: “I am coming to you. You will explode after two minutes.”
The four-minute video, of an incident that lasted 20 minutes, was shot from the bridge of the USS Hopper, a destroyer that was leading the cruiser USS Port Royal and the frigate USS Ingraham into the Gulf through international waters.
The Pentagon pictures suggested that the incident, dismissed by Iran as an “ordinary occurrence,” very nearly triggered a clash in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, through which a quarter of the world’s crude oil passes.
President Bush, who set off last night on an eight-day visit to the Middle East, described the incident as a “dangerous situation.”
“They should not have done it, pure and simple,” Mr. Bush said. “I don’t know what their thinking was, but I’m telling you what I think it was -- I think it was a provocative act.”
In the video the Iranian speedboats, thought to belong to the élite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, can be seen racing across the grey waters of the Gulf ignoring horn blasts and radio warnings from the much-larger and better-armed American vessels.
One bright-blue Iranian boat, manned by a crew in orange jump suits, can be seen snaking through the wake of the American warships, apparently dropping boxes into the water.
An unidentified U.S. sailor on the bridge of the USS Hopper can be heard trying to contact the Iranians by radio: “This is coalition warship. I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law. Intend no harm.” He then asks the Iranians to “identify yourself and state your intentions.”
But with the Iranian vessels still closing in, the American crewman warns the Iranians that they could come under fire. “Inbound small craft, you are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is unknown, your intentions are unclear,” he says. He then warns them that they would be “subject to defensive measures” if they did not disengage.
“Request that you alter course immediately to remain clear,” the American crewman says. After a pause, a man with a heavy accent replies in English: “You will explode after two minutes.”
The American asks him to repeat the message, but the Iranian vessels, which at one point came within 200 yards of the American ships, then disengage and return to base.
Tehran has tried to play down the incident. “This happens for the two sides every once in a while and, after the identification of the two sides, the issue is resolved,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tehran said.
There are suspicions that the action was linked to Mr. Bush’s visit to the region, where he is expected to rally support against the regime in Iran and its militant Palestinian and Lebanese allies. Mr. Bush’s tour through Kuwait, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia will be seen as a provocation in Tehran.
TRANSCRIPT OF IRAN-U.S. NAVY CLASH
January 9, 2008
The U.S. Navy video tape and audio recording that the Pentagon released Tuesday of the confrontation between a three-ship Navy convoy and five small Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf is 4 minutes and 20 seconds long.
It begins with a crew member speaking into a ship-to-ship radio after the Iranian boats are spotted.
U.S. crew member: "This is coalition warship. I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law." After a pause he resumes: "This is coalition warship. I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law. I intend no harm. Over."
Mostly inaudible internal ship communications follow.
At one point a crew member is heard saying the Iranian boats are "approximately two miles from coalition warships."
The video recording was made separately from the recording of the radio communications; they were put together by the Navy.
As the video camera tracks movement of two or three of the Iranian boats at a distance, the U.S. crew member is heard repeating his radio message: "You are approaching coalition warship operating in international waters. Request you establish communications, identify yourself, and state your intentions. Over."
What follows is internal, barely audible ship communications tracking the movement of the Iranian boats, at one point saying that one of the boats has an outboard engine, at another point saying the U.S. crews are "conducting level one on bridge-to-bridge, flashing lights."
Then a U.S. crew member's voice, apparently on an internal or ship-to-ship communication, says, "Five small unidentified small surface . . ." and indicates that the craft are inbound.
The U.S. ship repeats its message to the boats by radio transmission: "You are approaching coalition warship operating in international waters. Request you establish communications, identify yourself, and state your intentions." In the video tape, these words are nearly drowned out by the repeated blare of a U.S. ship's warning horn.
After the video tape turns black, the audio track resumes with an accented, deep male voice saying clearly in English, "I am coming to you." He emphasizes the word "coming" and stretches out the word "you."
An American voice is then heard: "Inbound small craft: You are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is not known; your intentions are unclear. You are sailing into danger and may be subject to defensive measures. Request you establish communications now or alter your course immediately to remain clear. Request you alter course immediately to remain clear."
Accented voice in English: "You will explode after (indecipherable) minutes."
American voice, apparently speaking to fellow crew members: "He says, 'You will explode after a few minutes.'"
VIDEO: IRAN THREATENS TO “EXPLODE” SHIPS
** Recordings Show Iranian Boats Swarming 3 U.S. Warships In Persian Gulf; Iran Denies Threats **
January 8, 2008
Small Iranian fast boats swarmed around U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, and a man speaking heavily accented English threatened, "I am coming to you. . . . You will explode after . . . minutes," according to a video released Tuesday by the Pentagon.
The Iranian boats appeared to ignore repeated warnings from the U.S. ships, including horn blasts and radio transmissions.
In a four-minute, 20-second video, shot from the bridge of the destroyer USS Hopper, the small boats -- including a bright blue one -- can be seen racing near the wake the U.S. ships and crossing close to each other.
From the Hopper's bridge, after spotting the approaching Iranian boats, a Navy crew member says over the radio: "This is coalition warship. I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law. Intend no harm."
Often uneven and shaky, the video condenses what Navy officials have said was a 20-minute or so clash. It ends with a blank screen, as only the audio of the Navy's final warning can be heard, just after the voice warns that they are coming.
"Inbound small craft: You are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity in unknown; your intentions are unclear," the unidentified crew member says. He then cautions the Iranians that if they do no steer clear they will be "subject to defensive measures."
"Request that you alter course immediately to remain clear," the crew member says.
The Americans couldn't believe what they heard next, CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports.
After a pause, the man with the accent issues a final threat: "You will explode after (indecipherable) minutes."
Earlier Tuesday, Iran's Revolutionary Guards corps denied that its boats sent threatening messages to the U.S. Navy convoy, and it defended its right to ask American vessels to identify themselves.
The Guards have said their boats approached the convoy early Sunday and asked the U.S. ships to identify themselves, then allowed them to continue into the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, a prime Middle East oil-shipping lane.
"No threatening messages were exchanged," state television quoted an identified Revolutionary Guards official as saying Tuesday.
American officials said the Iranian boats harassed the U.S. vessels and threatened to blow them up, calling the incident a dangerous provocation as President George W. Bush prepared to leave Tuesday on his first major trip to the Middle East.
The White House called the alleged incident "a reckless and provocative act," reports CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller.
A top U.S. Navy commander in the region said Monday that the Iranian boats radioed a message "to the effect that they were closing (on) our ships and that the ships would explode -- the U.S. ships would explode," said Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. 5th Fleet, which patrols the Gulf and is based at nearby Bahrain.
The Pentagon said five small Iranian boats repeatedly "charged" three U.S. warships -- cruiser USS Port Royal, destroyer USS Hopper and frigate USS Ingraham -- on what the U.S. Navy called a routine passage in international waters.
It also said the Iranian vessels dropped boxes in the water and warned the U.S. ships that they would set off "explosions," a U.S. Defense Department official said.
On Monday, Iran's Foreign Ministry called the incident a "normal" encounter between the two countries' ships and said it had been resolved.
U.S. Navy and Iranian officials have said in the past that vessels from the two rival nations frequently come into contact in the waters of the narrow, heavily trafficked Gulf. They often communicate by radio to avoid incidents.
But the latest incident was the first time U.S. officials have spoken of such a direct threat from Iranian boats.
On Tuesday, senior Revolutionary Guards commander Ali Reza Tangsiri was quoted as saying Iran had the right to ask any ships to identify themselves upon entering or leaving the Persian Gulf.
"It is a basic responsibility of patrolling units of the Revolutionary Guards to take necessary interception measures toward any vessels entering into the waters of the Persian Gulf," Tangsiri said, according to the Mehr news agency.
"We are entitled to use our definite right in the Strait of Hormuz to take controlling measures in relation to the entry of any vessel into the Persian Gulf," he was quoted as saying.
IRAN PLAYS DOWN ‘ORDINARY’ INCIDENT WITH U.S. SHIPS
January 8, 2008
TEHRAN -- Iran on Monday played down an incident between Iranian forces and U.S. naval ships in the Strait of Hormuz, describing the event as an "ordinary occurrence" that ended without any disturbance.
The assurances by Iran that the weekend encounter was unremarkable were in stark contrast to statements by Pentagon officials that Iranian speedboats swarmed three U.S. navy ships, radioing a threat to blow them up.
"This is an ordinary occurrence which happens every now and then for both sides," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told the state-run IRNA agency of the incident.
When such incidents take place, he said "the issue is resolved after both sides recognize each other."
The Revolutionary Guards, Iran's élite ideological force, confirmed that their naval forces were involved in the incident with U.S. naval ships but said "nothing out of the ordinary" took place, the Fars news agency reported.
"Nothing out of the ordinary happened between Guards' patrol forces and the U.S. boats in the international waters in the Strait of Hormuz," the agency quoted an informed source in the Guards' naval force as saying.
It quoted the source as saying the incident took place at "7:40 a.m. yesterday" (0410 GMT on Sunday).
"Revolutionary Guards naval vessels were patrolling the Straits of Hormuz and patrolling the incoming and outgoing vessels into the Persian Gulf," the source added.
"Three American warships were entering regional waters and as usual they were identified and questioned.
"The American boats, just as in the past, introduced themselves and gave the (indentification) number of their boats and continued on their way without any unusual occurrence."
A U.S. defense official had quoted the Iranian radio transmission as saying: "I'm coming at you and you will blow up in a couple of minutes." The Iranian officials made no reference to any such warning.
The incident came just days ahead of U.S. President George W. Bush's departure on Tuesday for a crucial trip to the Middle East.
He aims to boost the Israeli-Palestinian peace process while reiterating to U.S. allies in the region that Washington continues to view Iran as a threat.
U.S. defense officials said no shots were fired during the encounter, which occurred in international waters as the three U.S. navy ships transited the Strait of Hormuz.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the three U.S. warships -- a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer and a guided missile frigate -- issued warnings and took evasive action at the approach by the Iranian vessels.
In March last year, Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized 15 British sailors and marines in Gulf waters and held them at a secret location before releasing them in Tehran two weeks later.
Britain insisted that its personnel -- including one woman -- were on a routine anti-smuggling patrol in Iraqi waters under a U.N. mandate, but Iran said they were captured because they had strayed into its territorial waters.