Iran accuses US of previous drone breach, says it is inflaming the region
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Iran accuses US of previous drone breach, says it is inflaming the region

Zarif tweets graphic which he says shows flight path of drone into Iranian airspace earlier in May; Rouhani says US fueling tensions

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to meet his Japanese counterpart in Tehran on June 12, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives to meet his Japanese counterpart in Tehran on June 12, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran claimed Sunday that last week’s confrontation over a spy drone was not the first time in recent weeks an American reconnaissance aircraft had breached its airspace, accusing America of fueling tensions in an already volatile region.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted a map on Sunday which he said showed a previous border incident with a “spy drone” encroaching on Iranian airspace in late May.

He said the reconnaissance aircraft, a US-made MQ9 Reaper — also widely used for carrying out military strikes — had encroached on Iranian territory on May 26 despite being sent several warnings.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have flared since Iran on Thursday shot down the US drone. Iran said the drone violated its airspace — a claim the US denies — near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

In response, the US was ready to carry out a military strike against Iran but US President Donald Trump said he called it off at the last minute. The downing of the drone came after tensions spiked between the two countries following a series of attacks on commercial vessels that the US has blamed on Iran — accusations vehemently denied by the Islamic Republic.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday said the international community must react to the “intrusion” of the US drone.

“In recent years, Iranian oil platforms and cargo ships and even airliners have been attacked by American warships, and they have intruded Iran’s air space with their drone recently, which was shot down by Iranian defense forces after repeated warnings,” Rouhani said, according to the Iranian Mehr news agency.

In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a ceremony at Imam Khomeini International Airport some 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, June 18, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

“This region is very delicate and security of the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman waterways is highly significant for many countries. Therefore, we expect all international institutions to show an appropriate reaction to this American aggressive measure,” Rouhani added, according to the semiofficial Tasnim news agency.

Zarif accused allies and advisers of the US president, including US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of being “moments away from trapping Donald Trump into a war.”

Trump called off retaliatory strikes 10 minutes before they were to be carried out after being told some 150 people could die. The aborted attack was the closest the US has come to a direct military strike on Iran in the year since the administration pulled out of the 2015 international agreement intended to curb the Iranian nuclear program and launched a campaign of increasing economic pressure against the Islamic Republic.

Bolton said Sunday that Iran should not misinterpret Trump’s decision not to retaliate over the shooting down of the drone as weakness.

“Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness. No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East,” he said in Jerusalem before a meeting with Netanyahu.

Top Iranian military commander Maj. Gen. Gholamali Rashid warned earlier Sunday that any conflict in the region could spread uncontrollably. His comments came as Tehran asserted it would stand firm against any threats to its borders, after Trump said the military was “cocked and loaded” to strike over the downing the drone before calling off the response.

“If a conflict breaks out in the region, no country would be able to manage its scope and timing,” said Rashid, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency, cited by Reuters.

“The American government must act responsibly to protect the lives of American troops by avoiding misconduct in the region,” Rashid added.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that the US launched cyber attacks against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network this week after Tehran downed the American surveillance drone.

Earlier on Saturday, Iran issued a warning to the US and its allies in the region.

“Firing one bullet towards Iran will set fire to the interests of America and its allies” in the region, armed forces general staff spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told Tasnim.

Also on Saturday, Trump said that the United States would impose “major” new sanctions on Iran on Monday — a move sure to exacerbate tensions with the Islamic Republic.

Trump pushed back against claims he had called off a strike against Iran, tweeting that he had “only stopped it from going forward at this time.”

He said military action is still an option.

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