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Navy Fires Warning Shots at Iran Ship  07/26 06:06

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) --- A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired warning 
shots near an Iranian vessel that American sailors said came dangerously close 
to them during a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf, the first such incident 
to happen under President Donald Trump. Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guard 
later blamed the American ship for provoking the situation.

   The encounter Tuesday involving the USS Thunderbolt, a Cyclone-class patrol 
ship based in Bahrain as part of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, is the latest 
confrontation between Iranian vessels and American warships. It comes as Trump 
already has threatened to renegotiate the nuclear deal struck by his 
predecessor and after his administration previously put Iran "on notice" over 
its ballistic missile tests.

   The Thunderbolt was taking part in an exercise with American and other 
coalition vessels in international waters when the Iranian patrol boat 
approached it, 5th Fleet spokesman Lt. Ian McConnaughey said. The Iranian ship 
did not respond to radio calls, flares and horn blasts as it came within 150 
yards (137 meters) of the Thunderbolt, forcing the U.S. sailors aboard to fire 
the warning shots, McConnaughey said.

   "After the warning shots were fired, the Iranian vessel halted its unsafe 
approach," the lieutenant said in a statement, adding that the Iranian vessel 
created "a risk for collision." Large ships can't stop immediately on the 
water, meaning getting close to each other risks a collision.

   Video released by the Navy included a sailor giving a position off the 
eastern coast of Kuwait as the Iranian vessel sat directly in front of an 
American warship's bow. Another video included images of the Iranian ship off 
the Thunderbolt as its horn blared. The sound of machine gun fire followed.

   Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard instead blamed the Thunderbolt for 
the incident in a statement, saying the American vessel moved toward one of its 
patrol boats. It said the Thunderbolt fired into the air "with the intention to 
provoke and create fear."

   Iran and the U.S. frequently have tense naval encounters in the Persian 
Gulf, nearly all involving the Revolutionary Guard, a separate force from 
Iran's military that answers only to the country's supreme leader. The last one 
to involve warning shots happened in January near the end of then-President 
Barack Obama's term, when the USS Mahan fired shots toward Iranian fast attack 
boats as they neared the destroyer in the Strait of Hormuz.

   The U.S. Navy recorded 35 instances of what it describes as "unsafe and/or 
unprofessional" interactions with Iranians forces in 2016, compared to 23 in 
2015. Some analysts believe the incidents at sea are meant in part to squeeze 
moderate President Hassan Rouhani's administration after the 2015 nuclear deal, 
like hard-liners' arrests of dual nationals.

   Of the incidents at sea last year, the worst involved Iranian forces 
capturing and holding overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic 
Republic's territorial waters. It became a propaganda coup for Iran's 
hard-liners, as Iranian state television repeatedly aired footage of the 
Americans on their knees, their hands on their heads.

   Iranian forces view the American presence in the Gulf as a provocation by 
itself. They in turn have accused the U.S. Navy of unprofessional behavior, 
especially in the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 
a third of all oil trade by sea passes.

   Meanwhile Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a sanctions 
package that imposes mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran's ballistic 
missile program and anyone who does business with them. The measure would apply 
terrorism sanctions to the Revolutionary Guards and enforce an arms embargo. 
Democrats said the new sanctions on Iran don't conflict with the Iran nuclear 

   But a senior Iranian negotiator said the bill, which now goes to the Senate, 
would affect the landmark 2015 deal with world powers. Abbas Araghchi, a deputy 
foreign minister, said the legislation could "affect successful implementation" 
of the nuclear agreement and reduce the "benefits" Iran's benefits from it.


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