Middle East

Iran-US row over drone as tankers seized

The US and Iran have exchanged barbs over whether a US naval ship downed an Iranian drone but the row is taking a back seat to Iran's seizure of two tankers.

Iran and the United States are at odds over a US assertion that its navy had shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz because it had come too close to a US warship.

The row was overshadowed, however, by Iran seizing two oil tankers, one British flagged and the other Liberian flagged, in the Strait of Hormuz.

US President Trump said there was no doubt the USS Boxer warship had destroyed an Iranian drone on Thursday but Tehran showed video footage that it said disproved the incident even happened.

"No doubt about it, no. We shot it down," Trump said on Friday.

Speaking about Iran, he said the US hopes "for their sake they don't do anything foolish. If they do they will pay a price like nobody has ever paid a price."

Trump announced on Thursday that the Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had destroyed an Iranian drone because it had flown to within 1000 yards (914 metres) of the ship in a "provocative and hostile action".

A US official said the drone was brought down by electronic jamming.

But Iran said all of its drones were accounted for.

"All drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz ... returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control," Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior Iranian armed forces spokesman, was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying.

He said there was no report of any "operational response" by the USS Boxer and Iran's state television broadcast a video showing aerial views of ships that it said disproved the US assertion.

The television station said the footage, which came from Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and the timing notations indicated the pilotless aircraft was still filming after Washington said it had been downed.

The episode is the latest test of nerves around the Strait of Hormuz, a major chokepoint for oil tankers.

Relations between Washington and Tehran worsened last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran. Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs, in return for lifting sanctions. But sanctions have been imposed again, badly hurting Iran's economy.

Trump said he would talk to Britain about the report of the British tanker being seized in the Gulf.

The US has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran rejects the allegations.

The US has reimposed economic sanctions to throttle Iran's oil trade and pressure Tehran to renegotiate the accord, discuss its ballistic missiles and modify its regional policies.

Tehran on Thursday signalled a willingness to engage in diplomacy with a modest offer on its nuclear work - ratification of a document prescribing more intrusive nuclear inspections if Washington abandoned its sanctions.

But a senior Trump administration official dismissed the offer by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif appeared to have no decision-making ability and that Washington "would not consider anything from him serious", the official said.

Asked whom the US would need to hear from in order to have negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program, the official said: "I would say the supreme leader or the president."

Trump remained open to negotiations with Iran without preconditions on its nuclear program and will maintain a tough economic sanctions regime on Tehran in the meantime, the official said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the US needed Iran to "come to the table" for negotiations.

Pompeo, speaking at a counter-terrorism summit in Buenos Aires, also repeated an offer from Trump for talks without preconditions.

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