The U.S. Navy have sent a destroyer toward the Persian Gulf in response to Iran firing at a commercial cargo ship.
Iran claims the ship was trespassing on its territorial waters but the Pentagon say the ship was on “an internationally recognised maritime route”.
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After being fired upon, the ship issued a distress call, prompting the United States Navy to direct the destroyer, the Farragut, to the area. The Farragut, the defense official said, is now about 60 miles away. He said that so far there has been no communication between the United States Navy and Iran, but added that American aircraft are standing by to monitor the situation.
The episode could affect already fragile nuclear negotiations among the United States, five other world powers and Iran over efforts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. A tentative agreement, reached this month, calls for Tehran to drastically cut its enrichment of uranium in exchange for an easing of sanctions.
But officials must still hammer out the final details of the agreement, and a naval confrontation would make selling a deal even more difficult, both in the United States and in Iran.
Defense officials said that no American sailors were aboard the ship. The Marshall Islands is a presidential republic with free association with the United States, which provides defense, subsidies and access to social services.