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Iranian boats menace U.S. warships

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- In a confrontation in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz on Sunday, five Iranian boats took aggressive actions near three U.S. naval vessels, a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday, calling the brief standoff "reckless and dangerous."

The incident, which lasted about 20 minutes and ended uneventfully, took place in international waters, said the spokesman, Bryan Whitman. The American vessels were a destroyer, a frigate and a cruiser.

The Iranian government said the episode ended immediately when the vessels recognized one another,

Whitman and other officials, however, described a tense confrontation in the strait, a narrow, vital passage through which millions of barrels of oil are shipped every day. Oil prices on world markets spurted briefly on the news, which was first reported by CNN yesterday morning.

In Iran, the Fars news agency posted an article in both Persian and English based on the CNN report. Only the English translation offered a motive for the Iranians' actions, saying that they were warning the American vessels to stay away from Iranian territorial waters.

President Bush is to arrive in the region today for a weeklong tour aimed at encouraging Middle East talks and conveying a message that Iran continues to pose a serious threat.

The White House warned Tehran against any repetition of Sunday's incident.

"We urge the Iranians to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future," said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.

Whitman criticized the "reckless and dangerous behavior on the part of the Iranian vessels," and said that the American ships "conducted evasive maneuvering" and were "prepared to take appropriate action."

In March, Iranian Revolutionary Guard sailors captured 15 British sailors in what the British said were international waters and held them for nearly two weeks.

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