Sunday 25 August 2019

War fears as US 'receives message' over Drone action

Downed: A US Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned drone aircraft. Photo: Reuters
Downed: A US Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned drone aircraft. Photo: Reuters

Roland Oliphant

Fears of war in the Persian Gulf were heightened yesterday after Iran shot down an American drone to "send a message" to the United States.

Oil prices jumped by more than $3 to above $63 (€55) a barrel after Iran announced it had carried out the action for "violating Iranian airspace".

Coy: President Donald Trump refused to say how the US would respond. Photo: Reuters
Coy: President Donald Trump refused to say how the US would respond. Photo: Reuters

The United States confirmed that an RQ-4a surveillance drone had been shot down over the Strait of Hormuz, but said it was over international waters when it was hit.

"Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false," the Pentagon said in a statement. "This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace."

President Donald Trump declined to say how the United States would respond to the downed drone, telling reporters in Washington: "You will find out."

But he also played down Iranian government responsibility for the incident, saying he had a "big, big feeling" that the attack on the drone was a "mistake".

Speaking outside the White House, he said: "We didn't have a man or woman in the drone. It would have made a big, big difference." He added that it was probably someone "loose and stupid who did it".

Earlier, Gen Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, said the action was intended as "a clear message" that his country would defend itself.

Iran would "respond to all foreign aggression and our reaction is, and will be, categorical and absolute" he told the Tasnim news agency, which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"We declare that we are not looking for war but we are ready to respond to any declaration of war," he added.

Last week, two oil tankers were struck by mysterious explosions in the Gulf of Oman.

The United States accused Iran of using limpet mines to attack the ships on June 13.

Iran has denied involvement, suggesting instead that regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates carried out the attack to lure Mr Trump into a war with Iran.

Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, called the accusation "absurd" and warned that America's Gulf allies were "determined to push back against Iran's aggressive behaviour".

"The idea of closing the Strait of Hormuz would generate a very strong reaction," he told journalists in London.

It was the second attack on tankers in the area in a month. In May, four vessels suffered mysterious "sabotage" attacks that left them holed at the waterline.

The United States has also blamed Iran-backed groups for a string of mortar and rocket attacks on US assets in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia said Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen had fired a missile into the kingdom overnight but caused no damage.

Military tensions have risen amid a diplomatic stand-off over the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, the US and the European Union, which saw Iran curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Mr Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, saying it did not adequately restrict Iran's nuclear activities and failed to address concerns about the country's ballistic missile programme and backing of proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

In the year since, his administration has pursued a strategy of "maximum pressure" on the Iranian economy, including by trying to prevent third countries from buying Iranian oil.

Iran has said it will violate the agreement by producing more enriched uranium than the deal allows if the European signatories do not find a way for it to access oil revenues by next Thursday.

Iran's ambassador to London said the Islamic republic had so far seen "no concrete action" from European powers to meet that deadline.

Hamid Baeidinejad said that Iran would not accept the United States' demands to rewrite the nuclear deal and it does not believe an offer by Mr Trump for direct talks is "sincere".

Meanwhile, Iran has reduced police protection at British diplomatic facilities after Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2016, began a hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy.

The move came as the embassy complained to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that Mr Ratcliffe's protest violated international law.


Irish Independent

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