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Iran denies US downed one of its drones in Strait of Hormuz

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (Wolfgang Kumm/DPA/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iran has denied that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the strategic Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the ship.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi tweeted on July 19 that Tehran has “not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else.”

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Tehran “has no information about losing a drone today,” but he blamed Washington for pushing “itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss.”

Zarif, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of visit to the UN, accused the U.S. administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through economic sanctions.

Trump said the USS Boxer destroyed the drone after the aircraft threatened the ship by flying to within 1,000 meters of it and ignored multiple calls to stand down.

“The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests, and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt the freedom of navigation and global commerce,” he said at a joint news conference with visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Trump called on other countries to condemn what he says are Iran’s attempts to disrupt the freedom of navigation and global commerce in the Persian Gulf region.

Iran recently shot down a U.S. drone that it said was flying over Iran. Trump said he called off a planned retaliatory air strike against Iran at the last minute due to humanitarian concerns.

Tensions have been on the rise between Washington and Tehran after Trump last year withdrew from a landmark international deal under which Iran scaled back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The latest incident came as Iranian state television reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) seized a foreign tanker on July 14 with 12 crew members on board.

State TV reported on July 18 that the tanker was transporting fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers and was intercepted south of Iran’s Lark Island in the Strait of Hormuz.

State TV report did not identify the tanker or the nationalities of the crew members.

“With a capacity of 2 million barrels and 12 foreign crew on board, the vessel was en route to deliver contraband fuel received from Iranian boats to foreign ships in farther regions when it was intercepted,” the IRGC’s Sepahnews website said.

The website said the vessel the IRGC seized was the same one Iranian forces towed on July 14.

The United States said that the vessel was from the U.A.E. and that its crew had not been in contact with its owner since its transponder was turned off on July 13.

TankerTrackers, a cargo shipment tracking service, identified the vessel that was towed by Iran as the MT Riah — a Panamanian-flagged ship owned by the United Arab Emirates.

TankerTrackers said the MT Riah had crossed into Iranian waters on July 14 and that its last known position was off Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said on July 17 that Tehran towed a vessel into an Iranian harbor after it suffered a technical malfunction. He did not identify the ship.

Britain seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4 over allegations that it was breaking European Union sanctions by attempting to ship oil to Syria.

Iran has called for Britain to release the tanker and has threatened to seize British ships in retaliation.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, agreed on July 18 on the need to “consolidate efforts” to save the 2015 nuclear deal, an “important factor in ensuring security in the Middle East,” the Kremlin said.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani also urged Europe on July 18 to “accelerate” its efforts to salvage the deal during a phone call with Macron, saying “Iran is determined to keep open all options” to preserve the agreement, a statement on the government’s official website said.

He warned Macron that “missed opportunities” would force Iran to drop further commitments under the deal, after it rescinded some limits on its nuclear activities in May