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Iran's Revolutionary Guard shoots down U.S. drone amid tensions

U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed Iran's downing of a U.S. military drone on Thursday, saying he suspected it was shot by mistake and that "it would have made a big difference" to him if the remotely controlled aircraft had been piloted.

UN calls for 'restraint' as U.S., Iran dispute details of incident

This 2018 image shows a U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk, the same type of drone that was shot down on Thursday. (Staff Sgt. Ramon A. Adelan/U.S. Air Force via Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed Iran's downing of a U.S. military drone on Thursday, saying he suspected it was shot by mistake and that "it would have made a big difference" to him if the remotely controlled aircraft had been piloted.

While the comments appeared to suggest Trump was not eager to escalate the latest in a series of incidents with Iran, he also warned that, "This country will not stand for it."

Tehran claims that the unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone was on a spy mission over Iranian territory, but Washington argues it was shot down over international airspace near the Strait of Hormuz.

"I think probably Iran made a mistake. I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down," Trump told reporters at the White House.

United Nations said Secretary General António Guterres urged all parties to "exercise maximum restraint" and avoid any further escalation in the wake of the drone incident.

Guterres is "very concerned" and stressed again "that the world cannot afford a major conflict in that area," UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

Iran wrote to the UN accusing the United States of violating international law.

Abbas Mousavi, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying Iran cannot condone the "illegal trespassing and invading of the country's skies by any kind of foreign flying object," and that the "invaders will bear full responsibility."

But U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the United States has no appetite to go to war with Iran, and called on the U.S. to "de-escalate" tensions between the two nations following a briefing Thursday between top lawmakers and the president.

"This is a dangerous, high-tension situation that requires a strong, smart and strategic, not reckless, approach," she said.

Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, and Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, had been summoned to take part in an emergency meeting on the drone incident at the White House Situation Room, forcing a meeting between McConnell and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be postponed.

The incident caused oil prices to spike as much as four per cent. West Texas Intermediate was up by $2.29 US to more than $56 a barrel, while the world benchmark, Brent was up more than $2 at over $63 a barrel.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed concern about the downed American drone Thursday, calling for the U.S. and Iran to avoid further stoking tensions between the two countries. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The event, which the United States described as an "unprovoked attack," is the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf region — a critical artery for global oil supplies — since mid-May, including explosive strikes on six oil tankers as Tehran and Washington have edged toward confrontation.

Trump decided a year ago to withdraw from Tehran's nuclear deal. Now Iran has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and threatened to boost its enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels, trying to pressure Europe for new terms to the 2015 nuclear deal. The European Union announced Thursday it plans to chair a meeting between the nations involved in the embattled Iran nuclear deal in Vienna on June 28.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier to the Mideast and deployed additional troops to the tens of thousands already in the region. 

'Ready for war'

All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict, some 40 years after Tehran's Islamic Revolution. Thursday's drone incident marks the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on the U.S. amid the crisis.

"We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war," Gen. Hossein Salami, Revolutionary Guard commander, said in a televised address.

Gen. Hossein Salami, Iran's Revolutionary Guard commander pictured in 2018, described a U.S. drone as 'violating our national security border.' (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said a U.S. military attack on Iran would be a catastrophe for the Middle East that would trigger a surge in violence and a possible refugee exodus.

The Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone on Thursday at 4:05 a.m. local time when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran's Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is some 1,200 kilometres southeast of Tehran and close to the Strait of Hormuz.

The Guard said it shot down the drone after collecting data from Iranian territory, including the southern port of Chahbahar near Iran's border with Pakistan. Iran used its air defence system known as Third of Khordad to shoot down the drone — a truck-based missile system that can fire up to 30 kilometres into the sky, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

RQ-4 Global Hawks cost over $100 million US apiece, and can fly higher than 16 kilometres in altitude and stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time. They have a distinguishable hump-shaped front and an engine atop. Their wingspan is bigger than a Boeing 737 passenger jet.

The Revolutionary Guard described the drone as being launched from the southern Persian Gulf, but did not elaborate.

American RQ-4 Global Hawks are stationed at the Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, near the capital of Abu Dhabi. AP journalists saw the drones on the base's tarmac during a March 2016 visit by then U.S. vice-president Joe Biden.

The U.S. has been worried about international shipping through the strait since the limpet mine attacks in May and June.

Saudis say Houthis fired rocket at desalination plant

Iran has claimed to have shot down American drones in the past.

In a famous incident, Iran seized an RQ-170 Sentinel in December 2011 flown by the CIA to monitor Iranian nuclear sites after it entered Iranian airspace from neighbouring Afghanistan. The Iranians later reverse-engineered the drone to create their own variants.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said Yemen's Houthi rebels fired a rocket at a desalination plant in al-Shuqaiq, a city in the kingdom's Jizan province. The state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted a military spokesperson, Col. Turki al-Maliki, as saying no damage was caused and no one was wounded. The Yemeni rebel Al-Masirah satellite news channel earlier said the Houthis targeted a power plant in Jizan, near the kingdom's border with Yemen, with a cruise missile.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015 in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation now pushed to the brink of famine by the conflict. In recent weeks, the Houthis have launched a new campaign sending missiles and bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.

With files from Reuters, CBC News

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