WASHINGTON (AP) – An Iranian fleet of high-speed boats charged at and threatened to blow up a three-ship U.S. Navy convoy passing near Iranian waters, then vanished as the American ship commanders were preparing to open fire, the top U.S. Navy commander in the area said yesterday.

No shots were fired an an Iranian official in Tehran said the incident amounted to “something normal.”

Bush administration officials complained that the Iranian actions amounted to a dangerous provocation, but one private analyst said the Iranians may have believed they were acting defensively in a narrow waterway that is heavily trafficked by commercial ships, including oil vessels.

The incident raised new tensions between Washington and Tehran as President Bush prepared to depart today on his first major trip to the Middle East.

The three U.S. warships – cruiser USS Port Royal, destroyer USS Hopper and frigate USS Ingraham – were headed into the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz on what the U.S. Navy called a routine passage inside international waters when they were approached by five small high-speed vessels believed to be from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy.

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