Iran says US forces boarded tanker, offloaded crude oil onto another tanker, before IRGC Navy carried out ‘helicopter operation on deck of stolen vessel’ and does not direct it to Iranian territorial waters.
Kirby quickly dismissed those claims on Wednesday.
“There was no such effort by US naval assets to seize anything. What this refers to dates back to October 24, US naval assets monitored Iranian forces boarding and seizing smuggle a merchant vessel into international waters in the Gulf of Oman,” Kirby said.
In response, the US 5th Fleet, which operates warships in the Middle East, ordered “two ships and air assets to closely monitor the situation,” Kirby said. Two US officials said Iranian forces then sailed the vessel into Iranian territorial waters.
“At no time did U.S. forces attempt to take over or otherwise engage the situation,” Kirby said.
He said the only seizure that had been made was “by Iran”.
“I would add that Iran’s actions, those that are true, namely the boarding and illegal seizure of a vessel, constitute a flagrant violation of international law which undermines the freedom of navigation and the free circulation of commerce,” Kirby said.
The recent back-and-forth between the United States and Iran comes as long-delayed nuclear talks are set to resume Nov. 29 in Vienna, Austria.
Talks have been suspended for months, following Iran’s election of a new president and then the formation of a new negotiating team to take part in talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal .
US State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed optimism for the upcoming talks, but warned that time is running out. “We have said this many times before, but we believe there is still room to quickly reach agreement on a mutual return to JCPOA compliance and implement it by closing the relatively small number of issues that were up in the air at the end of June, when the sixth round ended,” Price said on Wednesday.
This story has been updated with comments from Pentagon spokesman John Kirby and State Department spokesman Ned Price.