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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Iran dismisses US claims of unsafe drone flight in Gulf as unfounded

The US Navy said the unmanned Iranian drone came close enough to F-18 fighter jets to put the lives of American pilots at risk

Iran has rejected Washington's claims that it flew an unarmed drone so dangerously close to an American aircraft carrier in the Gulf that it endangered the lives of US pilots.

The Iranian Sadegh drone flew without any warning lights on Sunday night while shadowing the USS Nimitz, the US Navy said on Monday, adding it came close enough to F-18 fighter jets to put the lives of American pilots at risk.

It was the latest in a spate of close encounters between US and Iranian aircraft or warships in the waters of the Gulf in recent weeks that have sparked recriminations as relations sour.

The drone ignored repeated radio calls and came within 300 metres of US fighters, said Lt Ian McConnaughey, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.

It "created a dangerous situation with the potential for collision and is not in keeping with international maritime customs and laws", Lt McConnaughey said. The drone was unarmed but that model can carry missiles, he said.

But the Iranian Revolutionary Guard dismissed the US concerns as unfounded.

"The Guards' drone patrols ... will continue in the Persian Gulf with precision, constantly and in the framework of protecting the borders of the Islamic republic of Iran and regardless of the psychological atmosphere created by alien forces," the Guards drone unit said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.

It added that the US claims of "unsafe and unprofessional" conduct were perhaps the result of "a weakness in their identification and recognition systems".

The incident follows an August 8 encounter between an Iranian drone and an F/A-18E Super Hornet.

Washington said the US jet was forced to manoeuvre to avoid a collision, with the drone passing just 30 metres away at its closest point. A US official said at the time it was the 13th such incident in 2017.

On July 28, the USS Nimitz was involved in an incident with Guards naval vessels that culminated in it scrambling a helicopter to fire warning flares. Just two days before that, a US Navy patrol ship fired warning shorts at a Guards vessel after the two came within 137 metres of each other in disputed circumstances.

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