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Trump says Iran 'made a very big mistake' downing US drone

Frederick Florin, AFP | US Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) on display at the 44th Paris-Le Bourget Air Show on June 21, 2001.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard shot down a US drone on Thursday, US and Iranian officials said, with Tehran claiming the drone violated Iranian airspace while Washington said it was flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

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The drone was downed amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, American and Iranian officials said, while disputing the circumstances of the incident.

The Guard said it shot down the drone over Iranian airspace, while two US officials told The Associated Press that the downing happened over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz. The different accounts could not be immediately reconciled.

US President Donald Trump, responded in anger to the news, tweeting that “Iran made a very big mistake!” by downing the drone.

Previously, the US military alleged that Iran had fired a missile at another drone last week that was responding to the attack on two oil tankers near the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack on the ships; Tehran denies it was involved.

The attacks come against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and Iran following Trump's decision to withdraw from Tehran's nuclear deal a year ago. The White House separately said it was aware of reports of a missile strike on Saudi Arabia amid a campaign targeting the kingdom by Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.

Iran recently quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 nuclear deal.

US troop deployment

In recent weeks, the US has sped an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. From Yemen, the Houthis have launched bomb-laden drones into neighboring Saudi Arabia.

All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran's Islamic Revolution. Thursday's drone incident marks the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on the US amid the crisis.

"We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war," Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami said in a televised address.

Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone on Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran's Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Tehran and close to the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency, citing the Guard, identified the drone as an RQ-4 Global Hawk. However, the US Navy also flies a variant that looks similar called the MQ-4C Triton.

The US officials told the AP the Iranians fired a surface-to-air missile striking the American drone. The officials said the incident happened over the Strait of Hormuz in international airspace. The strait is the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20 percent % of all global oil moves through.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be cleared for release to the public. They did not elaborate on the type of drone shot down, nor the mission it was conducting. However, the US has been worried about international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since the limpet mine attacks in May and June.

Salami, speaking to a crowd in the western city of Sanandaj, described the American drone as "violating our national security border."

"Borders are our red line," Salami said. "Any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated."

Not the first time

Iran has claimed to have shot down American drones in the past. In the most-famous incident, Iran seized an RQ-170 Sentinel in December 2011 flown by the CIA to monitor Iranian nuclear sites after it entered Iranian airspace from neighboring Afghanistan. The Iranians later reverse-engineered the drone to create their own variants.

Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had been "briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

"We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies," Sanders said.

The Yemeni rebel Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed the Houthis targeted a power plant in Jizan, near the kingdom's border with Yemen, with a cruise missile. Saudi state media and officials did not immediately report a missile strike Thursday.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015 in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation now pushed to the brink of famine by the conflict. In recent weeks, the Houthis have launched a new campaign sending missiles and bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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