U.S. analyzing recordings of Iranian encounter

CAIRO, Egypt &

The U.S. military has video and audio recordings of Iranian high-speed boats that threatened to blow up a three-ship U.S. convoy in the Persian Gulf and plans to release them, the top U.S. Navy commander in the Mideast said today.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards said that its boats never threatened the U.S. vessels during the encounter early Sunday in the Hormuz Strait, insisting it only asked them to identify themselves then let them continue into the Gulf.

But U.S. Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff disputed that account, saying the incident was "provocative."

Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. 5th Fleet, which patrols the Gulf and is based in nearby Bahrain, said the identity of the American vessels was obvious, they were clearly marked and the incident took place during daylight when they could be seen.

"I can't help but conclude that it was provocative," Cosgriff told The Associated Press during a telephone interview today &

the same day President Bush was scheduled to leave for his first major trip to the Middle East.

"There is video" of the incident, Cosgriff said. "We're using it as part of our assessment. That will be made available in due course, as well as the audio."

The White House echoed Cosgriff's characterization today, calling Iran's actions "reckless."

"It was not normal behavior," said White House press secretary Dana Perino. "It's just another point of reference for people in the region who are concerned about the behavior of Iran."

The Pentagon said five small Iranian boats repeatedly "charged" three U.S. warships &

cruiser USS Port Royal, destroyer USS Hopper and frigate USS Ingraham &

on what the U.S. Navy called a routine passage in international waters.

Cosgriff said Monday that the Iranian boats dropped boxes into the water and radioed a message "to the effect that they were closing (on) our ships and that the ships would explode &

the U.S. ships would explode."

On Monday, Iran's Foreign Ministry called the incident a "normal" encounter between the two countries' ships and said it had been resolved.

"No threatening messages were exchanged," state television quoted an unidentified Iranian Revolutionary Guards official as saying today.

Senior Revolutionary Guards commander Ali Reza Tangsiri said Iran had the right to ask any ships to identify themselves upon entering or leaving the Persian Gulf.

"It is a basic responsibility of patrolling units of the Revolutionary Guards to take necessary interception measures toward any vessels entering into the waters of the Persian Gulf," Tangsiri said, according to the Mehr news agency.

"We are entitled to use our definite right in the Strait of Hormuz to take controlling measures in relation to the entry of any vessel into the Persian Gulf," he was quoted as saying.

U.S. Navy and Iranian officials have said in the past that vessels from the two rival nations frequently come into contact in the waters of the narrow, heavily trafficked Gulf. They often communicate by radio to avoid incidents.

But the latest incident was the first time U.S. officials have spoken of such a direct threat from Iranian boats.


Associated Press writer Ali Akbar Dareini contributed to this report from Tehran, Iran.

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