Iran and the United States are now trading allegations about a recording of the a confrontation between U.S. Navy warships and Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz earlier this week. The incident took place shortly before President Bush left for his visit to the Middle East. The president has described the Iranian actions as a provocative act. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau Cairo.
A statement issued by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on Wednesday accuses the U.S. Defense Department of fabricating the video and audio recordings that show the confrontation between the Iranian speedboats and the U.S. Navy ships.
The Pentagon responded to the Iranian allegation by saying it was absurd and factually incorrect. A spokesman went on to say that the statement reflects a lack of seriousness about the incident.
The Pentagon says the four-minute video was shot from aboard the USS Hopper, a Navy destroyer. It shows several small speedboats maneuvering near the ship and another U.S. vessel.
The Pentagon says the audio recording was from radio communications between the U.S. Navy and the Iranian boats during the incident.
US Navy: "Request you alter course immediately to remain clear."
Iranian boat: "You will explode after a few minutes."
US Navy: "He said we will explode after a few minutes?"
Speaking aboard Air Force One on his way to the Middle East Wednesday, President Bush's National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley again called the incident "a provocative act by the Iranians" and said it came very close to sparking "an altercation" between the two countries' forces. He said Iran would "bear the consequences" of the incident if it happens again. President Bush made similar comments at the White House Tuesday.
Despite the latest Iranian claims that the recordings of the incident were fabricated, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has acknowledged that there was an incident, but called it a routine exchange of identification between U.S. and Iranian vessels.
His remarks were translated into English by Iran's state-owned English-language television station, Press TV.
"This is a very common instance, and it has happened in the past, and this is a usual thing, these kinds of communications."
The naval incident came just before President Bush began his current tour of the Middle East. Among other stops, he is scheduled to visit Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.
President Bush has said that one of his goals on this Middle East trip is to emphasize to his allies in the Gulf that he continues to see Iran as a threat to regional stability.
Given the timing, the Persian Gulf incident underlines the high level of tension between Iran and the United States over the last year.
But some political and security analysts specializing in Iran believe the incident surprised Tehran as well as the U.S. Navy.
University of Michigan historian and political commentator Juan Cole theorized on his Web site that it may have been the work of a local Revolutionary Guard officer, but probably was not ordered by Tehran.