Iran’s president vowed to shoot down more US drones on Wednesday amid sky-high tensions around the Persian Gulf.
Hassan Rouhani said that if any more American drones violated Iranian airspace ‘then they will receive the same response’ as the one that was blasted out of the sky last month, and almost prompted President Trump to launch airstrikes in retaliation.
The US has always denied that its aircraft was in Iranian airspace and accused Tehran of shooting it down over international waters in an ‘unprovoked’ attack.
Rouhani also denied US claims that it had shot down two Revolutionary Guard drones in the Strait of Hormuz last week, not one as originally claimed.
Tensions are reaching boiling point in the Gulf as the Trump administration tries to use oil sanctions to squeeze Tehran into backing down over its alleged nuclear ambitions.
Meanwhile, Tehran’s media mocked Boris Johnson on the day he will become British Prime Minister and take over negotiations to secure the release of a UK-flagged oil tanker that was captured in the Strait of Hormuz last week.
Iran’s media mocked Boris Johnson on the day he enters Downing Street as Britain’s new Prime Minister, comparing him to Trump’s bulter
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has vowed to shoot down any more US drones that violate his country’s airspace, after an American aircraft was shot from the skies last month
Johnson’s ascent to power received blanket front-page coverage in the Gulf nation, where he was presented as a hardliner who will mimic President Trump.
One of Mr Johnson’s first tasks as Prime Minister will be to diffuse tensions with Iran and secure the release of British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was seized by Revolutionary Guards boats last week.
Relations have been steadily worsening in the Gulf since Trump tore up a nuclear deal signed under Obama, and have escalated rapidly since May 12 when four tankers were attacked near the Gulf.
That was followed by attacks on another two tankers that the US and UK blamed directly on Iran, before Tehran shot a US drone out of the sky.
Last week, America claimed to have taken out an Iranian drone using signal-jamming technology – before a general later said that two drones were taken out, and more may have been affected.
Marine Corps Gen Kenneth McKenzie told CBS News: We are confident we brought down one drone – we may have brought down a second.
Iran’s defense minister, Gen. Amir Hatami, told reporters Wednesday that ‘if someone claims he should provide evidence,’ adding ‘none of our drones have been intercepted.’
He also point to the fact that when Iran shot down a U.S. drone last month it shared images of the wreckage to verify it.
Iranian newspapers also showed Boris casting a shadow shaped like Trump (top), and the US President tapping him on the shoulder (bottom left), under the headline ‘mimicking Trump’
President Hassan Rouhani also spoke out on Wednesday to assure Mr Johnson that if Britain releases the Iranian tanker it seized off Gibraltar then Iran will give ‘a positive response’.
‘We do not seek the continuation of tension with some European countries,” Rouhani said in comments carried on his website.
‘Should they be committed to international frameworks and give up their wrong actions, including what they did in Gibraltar, they will receive a proportional response from Iran.’
However, it is unlikely the UK will take such action without assurances from Tehran that the tanker will not head to Syria in violation of EU sanctions – which the regime has so-far been unwilling to give.
Rouhani said ‘Iran is ready to negotiate, but not if negotiations mean surrender,’ though it was unclear if he was referring to the UK tanker or nuclear deal with the US.
He added that seizing the tanker was ‘powerful, precise and professional’.
Elsewhere, a senior aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that a mediator has been sent to Iran to discuss the tanker and negotiate its release.
However, this was denied by British officials who said they were not aware of anyone being sent to the country.
Another Iranian newspaper ran a picture of Boris on its front page with an inside editorial predicting that he will not last long in the post
Tensions with Iran have been rising since the US stepped away from a nuclear deal last year, but events have escalated rapidly since four tankers were attacked on May 12
The Stena Impero – which is British-flagged but Swedish-owned – was stopped by Iranian vessels on Friday last week and taken to the port of Bandar Abbas, where it is now being held under guard.
Its crew, made up of 18 Indians, three Russians, one Latvian and one Filipino, are being held on board the vessel but are safe, Stena’s owners have said after being allowed contact with them for the first time on Wednesday.
Britain has announced a European-led mission to protect ships in the Strait, amid criticism that the Royal Navy is no longer large enough to provide security.
On Wednesday it was revealed that a large British-flagged vessel has transited the Strait of Hormuz in the first such passage since the Stena was seized.
Maritime publication Lloyd’s List identified the vessel as BW Elm and reported that British warship HMS Montrose closely shadowed the vessel but did not provide a direct escort. The Royal Navy could not immediately be reached for comment.
Data on tracking site Marine Traffic showed the commercial ship arrived at a port in Qatar early Wednesday after transiting the strait.
In a statement to the AP, the ship’s owner BW LPG declined to comment on specifics, but said the company ‘is grateful for the U.K. and international community for their naval presence’ providing security to ships in the area.
Underlining the uphill battle Johnson will face in the negotiations was Iran’s ultra-conservative newspaper Resaalat, which published a cartoon of Johnson in the guise of a British butler, being patted on the head by Trump at his desk in the Oval Office.
‘B team now has five members,’ it said, echoing a term Foreign Minister Javad Zarif regularly uses for senior officials in the US and its allies who share a hard line on Iran.
One of Mr Johnson’s first tasks will be securing the release of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz last week
Iran has said that it is willing to negotiate the release of the Stena, but only if Britain frees its tanker which was seized near Gibraltar last month
Iranian media released footage of Revolutionary Guards troops fast-roping down on to the deck of the Stena Impero, after British Marines did the same thing to an Iranian tanker
‘British Trump,’ read the banner of reformist Sazandegi, over a full-page picture of Johnson celebrating his win.
The conservative Jaam-e Jam published a picture edited to show Johnson casting a shadow in the shape of Trump’s profile on a wall behind him, with the title ‘Mimicking Trump’.
The reformist Etemaad’s headline read ‘Elected by hardliners’, with an editorial predicting Johnson’s tenure would be short-lived.
The unfolding crisis with Iran will be, along with Brexit, one of the most pressing tasks facing Johnson as he takes power.
The flare-up comes amid rising hostilities between Iran and the United States, after Trump withdrew from the 2015 deal aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear programme and began reimposing sanctions.
Rouhani described the seizing of the tanker as ‘powerful, precise and professional’ (pictured, Iranian troops during the mission)
The US denies that its drone strayed into Iranian airspace and says it was shot down in an ‘unprovoked attack’. President Trump ordered airstrikes against Iran in retaliation, but cancelled them at the last minute