Foreign minister’s private comments on power struggles within the Iranian establishment ignite controversy.
American and Iranian warships have had a tense encounter in the waters of the Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year amid wider turmoil in the region over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal, the US Navy said on Tuesday.
Footage – dated April 2 – released by the Navy showed a ship commanded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) cut in front of the USCGC Monomoy, causing the US Coast Guard vessel to come to an abrupt stop with its engine smoking.
The IRGC did the same with another Coast Guard vessel, the USCGC Wrangell, said Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the US Navy’s Middle East-based 5th Fleet.
Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident, which resulted in no injuries or damage.
“The US crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns, and while the (Iranian) Harth 55 responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, they continued the unsafe manoeuvers,” Rebarich said.
“After approximately three hours of the US issuing warning and conducting defensive manoeuvers, the (Iranian) vessels manoeuvered away from the US ships and opened distance between them,” added Rebariach.
‘Unsafe and unprofessional’ incident
The interaction marked the first “unsafe and unprofessional” incident involving Iran since April 15, 2020, Rebarich said.
Iran had largely stopped such incidents in 2018 and nearly in the entirety of 2019, she said.
In 2017, the US Navy recorded 14 instances of what it describes as “unsafe and or unprofessional” interactions with Iranian forces. It recorded 35 in 2016, and 23 in 2015.
The incidents at sea almost always involve the IRGC, which reports only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Over the weekend, leaked recordings surfaced in which Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was heard saying that the IRGC often sabotaged Tehran’s efforts, with IRGC-led “field operations” never budging to give way to diplomacy, even as Iran was in talks that ultimately led to its landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that lifted multilateral sanctions.
They include a 2016 incident in which Iranian forces captured and held overnight 10 US sailors who strayed into Iranian territorial waters.
The incident comes as Iran negotiates with world powers in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew and reimposed sanctions on Iran.