- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

President Bush chastised Iran yesterday for its actions against U.S. warships over the weekend, which he called “provocative” and “dangerous.”

“It is a dangerous situation,” Mr. Bush said during a White House press briefing. “They should not have done it, pure and simple. … I don’t know what their thinking was, but I’m telling you what my thinking was. I think it was a provocative act.”

Meanwhile yesterday, Pentagon officials released a videotape and new audiotapes of the Sunday morning incident. Three U.S. Navy ships were ready to fire on five Iranian “fast boats” in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, after the Iranian boats displayed hostile behavior.

The video showed small Iranian boats swarming around U.S. warships, and the tapes of radio communications had an Iranian threatening in heavily accented English: “I am coming to you. … You will explode after… minutes.”

The 4-minute, 20-second video, shot from the bridge of the destroyer USS Hopper, shows Iranian boats appearing to ignore repeated warnings from the U.S. ships, including horn blasts and radio transmissions.

According to the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, the Hopper and destroyer USS Port Royal and the frigate USS Ingraham were steaming in formation “when five boats, suspected to be from the Islamic Republic of Iran Revolutionary Guard navy, maneuvered aggressively in close proximity of the Hopper.”

Pentagon officials said the video shows Iranian boats in the distance, but darting aggressively across the narrow passage. The Iranian boats turned away just as the much larger U.S. ships were on the verge of firing at them in self-defense. Islamist terrorists have used small boats in suicide attacks, most successfully against the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000.

“Iran was a threat, Iran is a threat and Iran will continue to be a threat if they are allowed to learn how to enrich uranium,” Mr. Bush said yesterday before departing for a six-nation tour of the Middle East.

On other Middle East issues, the president noted that Iraq is making significant economic, political and social strides. He attributed the achievements to last year’s “surge” in U.S. military personnel and the successful implementation of reconstruction teams throughout the nation.

“Violence across the country continues to decrease,” Mr. Bush said at the press briefing. “Tens of thousands of Iraqis have stepped forward to join concerned local citizens groups that are fighting al Qaeda and other extremists.”

The president said those improvements are allowing some U.S. troops to return home, calling it a “return on success.”

“I don’t think most Americans know this, but one Army brigade and one Marine expeditionary unit have come home and will not be replaced,” he said.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams are central to the new strategy in Iraq, the president said. The teams help provincial governments develop local political processes, budgeting, the rule of law and economic growth.

“And as the security improves, life is returning to normal in communities across Iraq, with children back in school and shops reopening and markets bustling with commerce,” Mr. Bush said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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