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US Issues Formal Protest to Iran Over Maritime Incident

The United States has lodged a formal protest with the Iranian government over the incident last Sunday in which Iranian speedboats are said to have threatened U.S. Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz. The protest is being relayed by the Swiss government, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Diplomats here say the note basically repeats what U.S. officials have said about the incident in public. They say the fact that the protest is being lodged formally underscores the depth of concern in Washington about the maritime confrontation.

The U.S. Navy said five Iranian speedboats approached three American warships in international waters in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and maneuvered aggressively amid radio threats that the U.S. vessels would be blown up.

The Iranian craft broke off the engagement after warnings from the Navy ships, and the Pentagon said later the U.S. vessels had come close to opening fire.

In Jerusalem Wednesday, President Bush reiterated that the incident was provocative and dangerous and that the Iranians "should not have done it, pure and simple."

Briefing reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. note was being delivered through the Swiss government, which has represented American interests in Tehran since the break in U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations in 1980.

Casey said the note reflects the President's language that the incident was a provocation, and he dismissed Iran's insistence that its forces made no threats and that the encounter was routine.

"I think we all understand what happened in this incident. You've heard from the President, and you've heard from others about our concerns about it," said Casey. "We certainly don't want to see the Iranians taking any kind of provocative actions or provocative steps against our ships or against any ships that are transiting what is a primary international waterway."

The Pentagon earlier this week released a tape of the incident showing the Iranian craft sweeping close by the Navy ships. U.S. crewmen could be heard warning the Iranians to stay back, while an Iranian voice said the U.S. ships would "explode" within minutes.

Iran, which claims the U.S. tape was faked, broadcast its own tape on state television in which Iranian sailors ask the U.S. ships to identify themselves, but no threats are heard.

The incident has further added to tensions between the United States and Iran, which are already at odds over Iran's nuclear program and alleged support for anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq.

The U.S. Treasury Department Wednesday imposed sanctions against a general in the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

It alleged among other things that the Iranian general directed assassinations in Iraq aimed at provoking sectarian violence, and organized training in Iran for Iraqi insurgents.

Despite the absence of formal relations, U.S. and Iranian diplomats held several meetings in Baghdad last year on Iraq security issues.

A senior official here said another meeting had been tentatively set up for late December but was put off because of scheduling problems. He said the United States has told Iraqi intermediaries that it remains ready to continue the dialogue.