WHITE HOUSE - Updated at 2:29 p.m. July 19.
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed confidence Friday that an Iranian drone was downed in the Strait of Hormuz as it approached a U.S. warship the previous day.
"No doubt about it. No. We shot it down," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
"There's no question that this was an Iranian drone," Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, chimed in. "The USS Boxer took it out as the president announced yesterday because it posed a threat to the ship and its crew. It was entirely the right thing to do."
Asked if he was worried about a broader clash with Iran in the strait, Trump replied he was not.
"We hope for their sake they don't do anything foolish," he said. "If they do, they will pay a price like nobody's ever paid a price."
Earlier Friday, a senior administration official told reporters the Defense Department was expected to release video evidence of the drone shootdown.
Iran continued to deny the allegations.
"We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else," Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi posted on Twitter, adding he was "worried" that the U.S. amphibious assault ship had shot down an American military drone "by mistake."
We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else. I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS by mistake!— Seyed Abbas Araghchi (@araghchi) July 19, 2019
"The Iranians don't have a great history with the truth," responded a senior U.S. official to the assertion from Tehran. "They have a 40-year history of provoking us."
Trump told reporters gathered for a White House event Thursday that the drone came within 900 meters of the Boxer and ignored "multiple calls to stand down."
"The drone was immediately destroyed," he said. "This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters. The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests."
The Boxer "was in international waters conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz. A fixed wing unmanned aerial system (UAS) approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range. The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew," according to a U.S. Defense Department statement.
U.S. officials also dismissed an offer proposed by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to allow permanent scrutiny of his country's nuclear sites in exchange for permanent sanctions relief.
"The president has repeatedly said he is willing to have a conversation with Iranian leaders. If Iran wants to make a serious gesture, it should start by ending uranium enrichment immediately and having an actual decision-maker attempt to negotiate a deal that includes a permanent end to Iran's malign nuclear ambitions, including its development of nuclear-capable missiles," a senior U.S. official told VOA.
On Friday, another official elaborated that the Trump administration wanted "to see those offers coming from someone who has decision-making power, which he does not."
"We've seen absolutely no evidence he [Zarif] has decision-making power," said the senior administration official, adding that any offers from Tehran needed to come from either Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini or President Hassan Rouhani.
In a briefing for reporters, a senior official emphasized that Trump desired to change Iran's behavior through diplomacy and economic pressure and "he has no interest in an additional war in the Middle East," but "if they continue to take provocative acts that threaten our assets, our ships, commerce in the region, we'll respond."
Action against Hezbollah
The United States on Friday also declared it was beginning to take increased action against Hezbollah, which one senior official characterized as "a global terrorist organization sponsored and paid for by Iran."
Asked by VOA whether Tehran dictated where and when Hezbollah would strike or whether it was acting independently, the senior official replied: "Both. It depends."
The Treasury Department is offering a $7 million reward for credible and actionable information leading to the apprehension of a senior Hezbollah operative, Salman Raouf Salman, for "perpetrating and plotting terrorist attacks in the Western Hemisphere."
U.S. officials say Salman coordinated the 1994 attack on the largest Jewish community center in South America. The bombing of the building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killed 85 people and injured hundreds of others.
"We believe he is somewhere in the Middle East," a senior U.S. official replied when asked by VOA what information the government had on Salman's location.
U.S. officials say Salman was the handler for Mohammed Hamdar, arrested in Peru in 2014 for planning a terrorist operation in that South American country.