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Iranian Boats May Not Have Made Radio Threat, Pentagon Says

Iranian state TV aired video Thursday purporting to show a weekend standoff between small Iranian boats and U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf. Video by APRELATED VIDEO: U.S. Navy Video of Incident

"Which channel?" says a second Iranian. "Coalition warship 73," he says, speaking in English through his radio mike. "This Iranian navy patrol boat. Request side number . . . operating in the area this time."

A U.S. ship radios back: "This is coalition warship 73. I read you loud and clear."

The five-minute video, released by Iranian television yesterday, offers no indication of the tensions that supposedly sparked the encounter between U.S. and Iranian vessels in the Strait of Hormuz -- and no indication of an intention to attack. The Pentagon said it does not dispute anything in the Iranian video.

In Tehran, Revolutionary Guards Brig. Gen. Ali Fadavi charged that the United States was creating a "media fuss," the Fars News Agency reported. He said the Iranian objective was to obtain registration numbers that were unreadable.

The U.S. presence in the Gulf's international waters is a sensitive issue in Iran because the USS Vincennes, another Aegis cruiser, shot down an Iranian passenger plane in 1988, killing all 290 people on board. The United States at first contended that it was a warplane and then said that it was outside the civilian air corridor and did not respond to radio calls. Both were untrue, and the radio calls were made on military frequencies to which the airliner did not have access. A subsequent investigation showed that the U.S. ship was off course.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Iranian video does not refute the U.S. version. "Simply choosing not to reveal the careless and reckless actions in this video does not change the facts from what took place," he said in an e-mail.

The United States yesterday sent an official protest to Tehran through Switzerland, while Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates charged that Iran had acted aggressively. "What concerned us was, first, the fact that there were five of these boats and, second, that they came as close as they did to our ships and behaved in a pretty aggressive manner," he said at a news conference.

Quoting former defense secretary William S. Cohen, Gates said: " 'Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?' I think that aptly characterizes and appropriately characterizes the Iranian claim."

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.

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