Iran cites change in U.S. navy behavior in Gulf, U.S. denies

LONDON (Reuters) - An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said on Monday that U.S. vessels patrolling the Gulf had changed behavior and now abided by international regulations, a week after U.S. military officials said they had not adjusted operations in the sea area.

FILE PHOTO - The U.S. Navy patrol craft USS Squall (PC 7) steams in the Gulf in this U.S. Navy picture taken January 14, 2015. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony R. Martinez/Handout via Reuters

The U.S. navy reiterated on Monday that it had not changed its behavior.

In recent years, there have been periodic confrontations between the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and U.S. military in the Gulf - a major trade route for oil - but the number of incidents has dropped in recent months.

Last week U.S. military officials said the incidents had decreased because the Iranian military had halted routine “harassment” of U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander, Rear Admiral Ali Ozmaei, responded on Monday by saying that the “Americans’ behavior” had changed.

“They pay more attention to international regulations and avoid approaching Iran’s territorial waters,” Ozmaei was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.

A U.S. Fifth Fleet spokesman said in a statement last week that “the United States Navy has not adjusted its operations and will continue to operate wherever international law allows.”

On Monday, Commander Bill Urban reiterated that the U.S. had not changed its operations and it “remains vigilant as we continue to operate”.

Even with the decreased incidents, the U.S. navy remained “concerned with the increased number of Iranian UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) operating in international airspace at night without navigation lights.”

Last August, U.S. officials said an Iranian drone came within 100 feet (30 meters) of a U.S. Navy warplane as it prepared to land on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf.

A month before that, and in the first such confrontation since President Donald Trump took office, a U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots when an Iranian vessel approached to within 450 feet (140 meters) last July.

According to the U.S. navy, from January 2016 to August 2017 there was an average of 2.5 “unsafe” or “unprofessional” interactions per month between U.S. Navy and Iranian maritime forces.

A senior Iranian naval officer said last week that Iran’s warplanes warned off two “coalition vessels” during military drill in waters off the country’s southeast.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; editing by Ralph Boulton/William Maclean