U.S. President Donald Trump has responded emphatically to Iran's denial that one of its drones was destroyed by a U.S. warship in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, while his top diplomat has again encouraged Tehran to negotiate with Washington.
The latest naval challenge comes with tensions already high amid sporadic attacks on shipping -- including the confiscation on July 19 of a U.K.-flagged tanker by Iran's military forces -- and continuing diplomatic rancor between the United States and Iran.
"No doubt about it, no -- we shot it down," Trump said from the Oval Office on July 19.
He was repeating his earlier assertion that the USS Boxer destroyed the drone after it threatened the ship by flying to within 1,000 meters of it and ignored multiple calls to stand down.
Also at the White House, U.S.national-security adviser John Bolton added that there was "no question that this was an Iranian drone."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was then quoted during a visit to Buenos Aires as saying that the Iranian drone "went down."
He further urged Iranians to "come to the table" for negotiations, a recurring call since the United States abandoned a landmark deal under which Iran scaled back its nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief.
The White House, meanwhile, said that Trump had spoken by telephone with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been a leading voice in trying to save the 2015 nuclear deal, about Iran and U.S. concerns that Tehran could obtain a nuclear weapon.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on July 19 released images it said disproved the U.S. claim and showed the Iranian drone was carrying out its regular mission as the USS Boxer arrived in the region.
Earlier on July 19, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi tweeted that Tehran had "not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else."
A spokesman for Iran's armed forces said on July 19 that all Iranian drones had "safely returned" to their bases.
"Despite Trump's baseless and delusional claims, all of the Islamic republic's drones in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one mentioned by the U.S. president, have safely returned to their bases after carrying out their surveillance and control missions," senior armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.
"There have been no reports of a confrontation with the American USS Boxer" naval vessel, he added.
"The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests, and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran's attempts to disrupt the freedom of navigation and global commerce," Trump had told at a joint news conference with visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on July 18.
Trump called on other countries to condemn what he said were Iran's attempts to disrupt the freedom of navigation and global commerce in the Persian Gulf region.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Tehran "has no information about losing a drone today," but he blamed Washington for pushing "itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss."
Zarif, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of visit to the UN, accused the U.S. administration of "trying to starve our people" and "deplete our treasury" through economic sanctions.
Less than a month ago, Iran shot down a U.S. drone that it said was flying over Iran. Trump reportedly called off a planned retaliatory air strike against Iran at the last minute.
Late on July 19, Iran's IRGC announced it had seized a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz for an alleged failure "to respect international maritime rules."
The Stena Impero's owner and operator, Stena Bulk and Northern Marine, said that there were 23 seafarers aboard the tanker and that they were unable to contact the vessel after around 1500 GMT/UTC. They said there were no reported injuries.
U.K. officials were said to be "urgently seeking further information" about the incident.
Tensions have been on the rise between Washington and Tehran after Trump last year from the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to trade sanctions relief for nuclear curbs, although China, Russia, and European powers remained party to it.
The latest incident came as Iranian state television reported that the IRGC seized a foreign tanker on July 14 with 12 crew members on board.
State TV reported on July 18 that the tanker was transporting fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers and was intercepted south of Iran's Lark Island in the Strait of Hormuz.
The state TV report did not identify the tanker nor the nationalities of the crew members.