(CNN) — The US strongly rejected Iran’s accusation that the US Navy had tried to confiscate Iranian crude oil aboard a tanker in the Gulf of Oman, with Pentagon spokesman John Kirby calling the claims “absolutely, totally false and untrue.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claimed it had stopped US forces from confiscating Iranian crude oil on the tanker. According to Iranian state-media quoting the IRGC, US warships and helicopters “chased the tanker” in an attempt to take it over but failed.
Iran had said that US forces boarded a tanker, unloaded crude oil onto another tanker, before IRGC Navy carried out a “heliborne operation on the stolen ship’s deck” and directed it back to Iranian territorial waters.
Kirby swiftly rejected those claims on Wednesday.
“There was no such effort by US naval assets to seize anything. What this refers to is back on the 24th of October, US Navy assets did monitor Iranian forces illegally boarding and seizing a merchant vessel in international waters in the Gulf of Oman,” Kirby said.
In response, the US 5th Fleet, which operates naval ships in the Middle East, directed “two ships and aerial assets to closely monitor the situation,” Kirby said. Two US officials said the Iranian forces then sailed the ship into Iran’s territorial waters.
“At no time were US forces attempting to retake or otherwise engage in the situation,” Kirby said.
He said the only seizing that had been done was “by Iran.”
“I would add that Iran’s actions, the ones that are true, of them illegally boarding and seizing a vessel, constitute a blatant violation of international law that undermines freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce,” Kirby said.
The US is trying to better understand where the vessel and its cargo came from, one US official added, and whether oil was transferred at some point along its route.
The recent back-and-forth between the US and Iran comes as long-delayed nuclear talks are poised to restart November 29 in Vienna, Austria.
The talks have been on a months-long hiatus, a result of Iran electing a new President and then assembling a new negotiating team to participate in discussions to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price has expressed optimism for the upcoming talks, but warned that time is waning. “We’ve said this many times before, but we believe it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA by closing the relatively small number of issues that remained outstanding at the end of June, when the sixth round concluded,” Price said on Wednesday.