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Top US Military Officer Says Iran's Actions More Important Than Words in Gulf Incident

By Al Pessin
11 January 2008

The top U.S. military officer says the origin of threatening radio transmissions during an encounter between U.S. and Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf on Sunday is not as important as what the Iranian boats were doing. The officer calls the Iranian actions provocative and says U.S. forces are prepared to respond if the threat escalates. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

At a news conference, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said it is difficult to know where the threatening radio transmissions came from.

But he says the actions of the Iranian boats - approaching three U.S. Navy ships at high speed, maneuvering around them, not answering radio calls and dropping objects into the water - were threatening enough even without the transmissions.

And the admiral stressed that although no shots were fired during Sunday's incident, U.S. Navy ships will defend themselves if they have to.

"We will defend ourselves and our ships, and we will do so with deadly force if need be," he said.

Admiral Mullen says the incident was the most provocative of several encounters the U.S. Navy has had with boats from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Force. He says it is a reminder of the real threat posed by Iran and how ready U.S. forces are to respond. But he also said the best way to encourage Iran to play a more constructive role in the region is through diplomacy.

The latest controversy over the radio transmissions comes in the wake of a report in Friday's Washington Post, saying the U.S. Navy can not determine exactly where these threatening radio transmissions came from.

The voice on an open channel for ship-to-ship communications says, "I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes." The Pentagon released the sound along with video showing the Iranian boats menacing the American ships.

Officials acknowledge the transmissions added to the tension of the situation, but they say the actions of the Iranian boats were more important in commanders' decisions to prepare to defend the ships. The Iranian boats turned away before any shots were fired.

A Navy official says a competing video released by Iran, showing a routine contact with the American ships, was from one of several other encounters during the same passage.

Admiral Mullen says the action by the Revolutionary Guard boats appears to be part of a shift by Iran to more aggressive tactics and more involvement in the Gulf by the Guard boats, rather than Iranian Navy vessels, which operate more in accordance with normal maritime practices. The admiral says the Guard boats appear to be probing to see what they can get away with.

"Clearly, when you go through this kind of incident there's going to be testing," said Admiral Mullen. "We're going to learn about each other. And there's no taking that off the table. So I'm sure we learned about them and they learned about us."

Admiral Mullen says Iran should not confuse the U.S. Navy's restraint in that situation with a lack of capability or willingness to fire if necessary to defend U.S. or allied forces.

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