Iran has denied that its Revolutionary Guards launched rockets near a US aircraft carrier in the Gulf and condemned US plans for new sanctions over its ballistic missile program.
The dispute comes after Iran and six world powers, including the United States, reached a deal in July that will remove certain US, European Union and UN sanctions on Tehran in exchange for Iran accepting curbs on its nuclear program.
“The naval forces of the Guards have not had any exercises in the Strait of Hormuz during the past week and the period claimed by the Americans for them to have launched missiles and rockets,” the Revolutionary Guards website quoted Ramezan Sharif, the Guard’s spokesman, as saying.
“The publication of such false news under the present circumstances is akin to psychological warfare,” Sharif said.
NBC News, citing unnamed US military officials, said the Guards were conducting a live-fire exercise and the US aircraft-carrier Harry S. Truman came within about 1,500 yards of a rocket as it entered the Gulf with other warships.
In Washington, Commander Kyle Raines said the action was “highly provocative, unsafe and unprofessional.”
Several Revolutionary Guard vessels fired the rockets “in close proximity” of the warships and nearby merchant traffic “after providing only 23 minutes of advance notification,” said Raines, spokesman for the US Central Command.
Iranian and US forces have clashed in the Gulf in the past, especially during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Diplomats have held out hope the deal over Iran’s disputed nuclear program could ease decades of mistrust and reduce tensions in the Middle East.
The West has long suspected the program was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb, something denied by Iran, which sent a shipment of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia this month as part of the deal.
But ahead of the formal easing of international sanctions on Tehran set for the beginning of 2016, tensions have mounted.
Hardliners in Iran have carried out a wave of arrests of activists they accuse of promoting Western “infiltration,” while the United States passed a law restricting visa-free travel rights for people who have visited Iran or hold dual Iranian nationality, a measure Iran has called a breach of the deal.