WASHINGTON – An Iranian confrontation with U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf was a "provocative act," President Bush said Tuesday, hours before he was to leave for the Mideast on an eight-day visit.
"It is a dangerous situation," he said at a White House news conference. "They should not have done it, pure and simple. ... I don't know what ... their thinking was. But I'm telling you what I think it was. I think it was a provocative act. And my message today, to the Iranians, is they shouldn't have done what they did."
During his trip, Bush will nudge the Israelis and Palestinians toward a peace pact, get an update on Iraq and work to counter Iran's quest for greater influence in the region.
In a speech Sunday in the United Arab Emirates, Bush will highlight political change that has occurred in places like Bahrain and how regional security is important not only for democracy, but economic growth. On Saturday he will host a round-table session about democracy with Kuwaiti women, who were excluded from political life until recently.
Privately, administration officials say the trip is designed in part to counter Iran's influence in the region, which may offer speculation as to why the Iranians tried to flex their muscle ahead of the president's arrival.
The conversation with worried Arab leaders will also cover U.S. policy toward Iran as well as Iran's ongoing uranium enrichment.
"One of the problems we have is that the intelligence report on Iran sent a mixed signal. Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat, and Iran will continue to be a threat if they are allowed to learn how to enrich uranium," Bush said.
Arab diplomats are already saying their countries are concerned incidents like the one Sunday could erupt into a military confrontation and hurt oil shipping through the strait or worse.
New video from the U.S. Navy out after the president's news conference shows how tense the situation became Sunday for sailors aboard three U.S. warships in international waters in the Strait of Hormuz. At least five Iranian fast boats closed in quickly. A radio transmission believed to have come from one of the Iranian boats said, "I am coming to you."
Commanders aboard the USS Port Royal, the USS Hopper and the USS Ingraham were ramping up defensive operations when the radio back and forth happened with the Iranians.
"Inbound small craft, you are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is not known and your intentions are unclear.Request you alter course immediately to remain clear," the Navy warned.
The response from the speed boat :"You will explode in a couple of minutes."
The Iranian fleet "maneuvered aggressively" and then vanished as the American ship commanders were preparing to open fire, said Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff. No shots were fired.
In a four-minute, 20-second video released Tuesday by the Pentagon, the small boats — including a bright blue one — can be seen racing near the wake the U.S. ships and crossing close to each other.
The audio and video recordings were made separately, and initially covered much of the more than 20 minute confrontation, but were pulled together and combined by the Navy, the officials said.
In Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry suggested the Iranian boats had not recognized the U.S. vessels. Spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini played down the incident. "That is something normal that takes place every now and then for each party," he told the state news agency IRNA.
Cosgriff disputed Iranian claims that the incident was a routine encounter, saying Iran's "provocative" actions were "deadly serious" to the U.S. military.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps said that its high-speed boats never threatened the U.S. vessels during the encounter, insisting it only asked them to identify themselves, then let them continue into the Gulf. An IRGC commander defended his force's right to identify ships in the sensitive waterway.
Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. 5th Fleet, which patrols the Gulf and is based in nearby Bahrain, said the American vessels had already been identified by Iranian authorities earlier in the day before the confrontation occurred.
"The group had been successfully queried by an Iranian ship, possibly a Revolutionary Guards ship, and two or three Iranian (shore) stations and an Omani station," Cosgriff told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The U.S. commander also pointed out that the American ships were clearly marked and the incident took place during the day when they could be seen. "I can't help but conclude that it was provocative," Cosgriff said.
The Pentagon has said the U.S. ships were on the verge of opening fire on the Iranian boats when they fled.
Two of the Iranian boats went to the ship's left side, three to the right, he said. The two on the left "were more energetic and made a number of runs toward the lead ship, the USS Hopper."
FOX News' Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.