U.S. Formally Protests Iranian Harassment of Ships in Persian Gulf

The United States has lodged a formal diplomatic protest with Iran over a weekend incident in which Iranian speedboats harassed U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, the State Department said Thursday.

The protest, which repeats public U.S. complaints about the "provocative" action, was sent to the Iranian Foreign Ministry through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran, deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters. He could not say if the Iranians had actually received and acknowledged receipt of the protest

"We have ... prepared and given to the Swiss a diplomatic note formally protesting this incident," he said. "It reiterates the points that we have made publicly in the last few days."

"We certainly don't want to see the Iranians taking any kind of provocative actions or provocative steps against our ships or against any ships that are transiting what is a primary international waterway," Casey said.

He dismissed Iranian claims that there was nothing unusual about Sunday's incident in the Strait of Hormuz as well as a videotape aired by Iranian television on Thursday that appeared to be an attempt to show that there was not a confrontation between the vessels.

"We all understand what happened in this incident," Casey said.

The Pentagon maintains that Iranian naval speedboats swarmed around U.S. warships in a threatening manner and released its own video of the incident in which a man in accented English says, "I am coming to you. ... You will explode after ... minutes."

President Bush has warned Iran not to repeat such actions, which he said would draw "serious consequences."

Iran denies its boats threatened the U.S. vessels, and accused Washington of fabricating its video. The Pentagon has dismissed that claim and warned that its ships would respond with force if threatened.

The grainy 5-minute, 20-second Iranian video shows a man speaking into a handheld radio, with three U.S. ships floating in the distance. It appeared to be shot from a small boat bobbing at least 100 yards from the American warships. But the footage does not show any Iranian boats approaching the U.S. vessels or any provocation.

The entire incident lasted about 20 minutes, according to the U.S. Navy, and a Pentagon official said that while the Iranian video appeared to have been taken around the time of the confrontation, controversial parts had been edited out.

The clip aired on Iran's state-run English-language channel Press TV, whose signal is often blocked inside Iran. It also aired on the state-run Al-Alam Arabic channel, with an announcer saying the video showed "a routine and regular measure."

The incident, which ended without any shots fired, has heightened U.S.-Iranian tension as Bush visits the region. Bush was in the West Bank on Thursday, and heads next to Arab Gulf nations where he is expected to discuss strategy on Iran.