Iran denies firing rockets near U.S. warships

Iranian Navy boats take part in maneuvers during navy exercises in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran, in this Jan. 3, 2012 file photo.

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Iran denied Thursday U.S. and European claims that Iranian military vessels had fired rockets near an American warship in the crucial Strait of Hormuz waterway, calling the accusation "psychological warfare," according to the Reuters news agency.

"The naval forces of the Guards have not had any exercises in the Strait of Hormuz during the past week and the period claimed by the Americans, for them to have launched missiles and rockets," the spokesman for Iran's Revolutionary Guards said in a statement posted to the Guards' website.

Reuters said the statement, attributed to spokesman Ramezan Sharif, called "the publication of such false news under the present circumstances is akin to psychological warfare."

The vital strait, a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman that is the route for nearly a third of all oil traded by sea, is crucial for ships taking part in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In the past, Iran has threatened to block the strait, which lies at the entrance of the Persian Gulf.

While the United States has complained previously about other Iranian war games and maneuvers there, Saturday's incident comes after a series of weapons tests and other moves by the Islamic Republic which have kept tensions high following the landmark nuclear deal reached by the U.S. and five other world powers with Iran.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the U.S. Treasury Department was preparing new sanctions against several individuals and companies in Iran, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates related to Iran's ballistic missile program. Treasury and the White House declined to comment on the Journal report, which was attributed to anonymous U.S. officials.

Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, said in a statement that Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval vessels fired "several unguided rockets" about 1,500 yards from the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, the USS Bulkeley destroyer and a French frigate, the FS Provence. Raines said commercial sea traffic also was nearby, though the missiles weren't fired in the direction of any ships.

Raines said the Iranian vessels announced over maritime radio that they'd carry out a live fire exercise only 23 minutes beforehand.

Iran's "actions were highly provocative," Raines said. "Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law."

A French military official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to publicly named, confirmed the rocket fire took place Saturday. However, the official said the French military did not consider it to be a threatening event as the rocket fire clearly wasn't directed toward the Western fleet.