By Nazila Fathi
TEHRAN â€” Iranâ€™s Revolutionary Guard accused the United States on Wednesday of fabricating video showing armed Iranian speedboats confronting United States Navy warships in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, according to a report carried by the semi-official Fars news agency as well as state-run television.
â€œImages released by the U.S. Department of Defense about the navy vessels, the archive, and sounds on it are fabricated,â€ an unnamed Revolutionary Guard official said, according to Fars. The news agency has close links to the Revolutionary Guard. It was the first time Iran had commented on a video the Pentagon released Tuesday.
President Bush chastised Iran on Tuesday for committing a â€œprovocative act.â€ On Wednesday, Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bushâ€™s national security adviser, again warned Iran, saying at the start of a trip with Mr. Bush to the Middle East, that Iran has â€œto be very careful about this, because if it happens again, they are going to bear the consequences of that incident.â€
The unnamed Revolutionary Guard official asserted that the video had been released to coincide with Mr. Bushâ€™s trip and â€œwas in line with a project of the Western media to create fear.â€ The official said the sounds and the images on the video did not go together. â€œIt is very clear that they are fake,â€ the official said.
The video and audio were recorded separately and then matched, Naval and Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
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, showing Iranian speedboats maneuvering around and among the Navy warships.
â€œI am coming to you,â€ a heavily accented voice says in English. â€œYou will explode after a few minutes.â€
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, â€œHe says, â€˜You will explode after a few minutes.â€™ â€ The American is also heard identifying the Navy vessel as a â€œcoalition warshipâ€ and announcing: â€œI am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law. I intend no harm.â€
Bush administration officials say they believe that Iran was trying to provoke the United States on the eve of the presidentâ€™s visit to the Middle East.
â€œWe viewed it as a provocative act,â€ Mr. Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden on Tuesday, just hours before he left for the weeklong trip to the Middle East. â€œIt is a dangerous situation, and they should not have done it, pure and simple.â€
Mr. Bush said pointedly that he would use the trip to remind American friends and allies in the region that Iran poses a danger.â€œIâ€™m going to remind them what I said in that press conference when I sat there and answered some of your questions,â€ Mr. Bush said.
â€œIran 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,â€ he added. â€œAnd so Iâ€™m 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.â€
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 â€œprovincial reconstruction teams,â€ he sounded upbeat about progress in Iraq, saying that 2007, particularly the end of the year, had been â€œincredibly successful beyond anybodyâ€™s expectations.â€
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 that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear arms program.
Mr. Bush conceded that the report had complicated his efforts. â€œOne of the problems we have is that the intelligence report on Iran sent a mixed signal,â€ he said.
Mr. Bush will visit three Gulf states â€” Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates â€” 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.
â€œI think heâ€™s realized that a lot of the international steam on Iran has been lost in the wake of the N.I.E.,â€ said Michael Jacobson, an expert on Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research organization in Washington. â€œI think heâ€™s doing what he can to try to refocus the international community on the dangers that Iran poses.â€
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: â€œInbound small craft: You are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is not known. Your intentions are unclear.â€
The American warns the Iranians that if they do not â€œalter course immediately to remain clear,â€ then the small boat will be â€œsubject to defensive measures.â€
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.