New York Times: President Bush chastised Iran on Tuesday for committing a provocative act by confronting United States Navy warships in the Persian Gulf over the weekend. The Pentagon released video showing Iranian speedboats maneuvering around the American convoy. The New York Times
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and THOM SHANKER
Published: January 9, 2008
WASHINGTON President Bush chastised Iran on Tuesday for committing a provocative act by confronting United States Navy warships in the Persian Gulf over the weekend. The Pentagon released video showing Iranian speedboats maneuvering around the American convoy.
We viewed it as a provocative act, Mr. Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden, just hours before he left for a weeklong trip to the Middle East. It is a dangerous situation, and they should not have done it, pure and simple.
The episode took place Sunday in the strategic Strait of Hormuz and was initially described by American officials on Monday. They said five armed Iranian speedboats approached three United States Navy warships in international waters, then maneuvered aggressively as radio threats were issued that the American ships would be blown up.
The confrontation ended without shots fired or injuries.
The video runs just over four minutes and, according to Pentagon officials, was shot from the bridge of the guided missile destroyer Hopper. It supported the American version of events, by showing Iranian speedboats maneuvering around and among the Navy warships, quite close to the convoy.
I am coming to you, a heavily accented voice says in English. You will explode after a few minutes.
Navy officials said the voice was recorded from the internationally recognized bridge-to-bridge radio channel.
An American sailor then is heard repeating the threat, stating, He says, You will explode after a few minutes. The American is also heard identifying the Navy vessel as a coalition warship and announcing: I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law. I intend no harm.
Iranian officials have played down the encounter, but administration officials say they believe that Iran was trying to provoke the United States on the eve of the presidents visit to the Middle East. Mr. Bush said pointedly on Tuesday that he would use the trip to remind American friends and allies in the region that Iran poses a danger.
Im going to remind them what I said in that press conference when I sat there and answered some of your questions, Mr. Bush said.
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, he added. And so Im looking forward to, you know, making it clear that the United States of America sees clearly the threats of this world, and we intend to work with our friends and allies to make that part of the world more secure.
Mr. Bush made his comments, his first on the event, during an appearance intended to put a spotlight on the first anniversary of his speech announcing a troop buildup in Iraq.
After conducting a videoconference with combat commanders and members of civilian provincial reconstruction teams, he sounded upbeat about progress in Iraq, saying that 2007, particularly the end of the year, had been incredibly successful beyond anybodys expectations.
Mr. Bush has repeatedly said he will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. But his efforts to convince the world that Iran is, in fact, a nuclear threat, have grown more complicated since the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate, or N.I.E., that concluded that Iran had abandoned its efforts to enrich uranium.
Mr. Bush conceded that the report had complicated his efforts. One of the problems we have is that the intelligence report on Iran sent a mixed signal, he said.
Mr. Bush will visit three Gulf states Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates during his stay in the Middle East. Experts on Iran said the episode in the Strait of Hormuz gave Mr. Bush an opening to press his message that Iran is a danger.
I think hes realized that a lot of the international steam on Iran has been lost in the wake of the N.I.E., said Michael Jacobson, an expert on Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research organization in Washington. I think hes doing what he can to try to refocus the international community on the dangers that Iran poses.
The video may also help Mr. Bush make his case.
While it is difficult to judge exact distances, Pentagon officials said at least one Iranian boat came within about 200 yards of the Hopper, a distance that could have been covered in a matter of seconds at top speed.
In the tape, horns are sounded, and the American crew member also radios to the Iranian vessels: Inbound small craft: You are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is not known. Your intentions are unclear.
The American warns the Iranians that if they do not alter course immediately to remain clear, then the small boat will be subject to defensive measures.
Pentagon officials said the commander of the Hopper had been on the verge of issuing an order to fire on the Iranian speedboat with a high-powered machine gun when the Iranian craft suddenly steered away.