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Relations With Iran on High Seas 'Courteous, Professional'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD THE USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN, April 30, 2006 – Despite political tensions among Iran and other countries, exchanges between the Iranian navy and coalition forces in the northern Arabian Gulf are "fully courteous and professional," said U.S. Navy Capt. Christopher Noble, during an interview here.

Noble, the commander of Coalition Task Group 58.1, is charged with protecting Iraq's oil terminals, located in Iraqi territorial waters.

However, exchanges with ships manned by Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen are not as professional, and the Iranian ships test the coalition on occasion. "But it's still a crisp relationship, and they know why we're here," said Marine Brig. Gen. Carl B. Jensen, commander of Coalition Task Force 58. Jensen has responsibility for security and stability in the northern Arabian Gulf.

One of the oil terminals, the Khawr al Amaya, is just a few kilometers away from the border with Iran. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maui, one of four patrolling the area, was less than a kilometer away from Iranian waters.

U.S. Navy officials differentiate between the Iranian navy and the Revolutionary Guards. The navy has primary responsibility at the Straits or Hormuz and the Central Arabian Gulf. "They are very professional mariners; they are very courteous," U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Michael Miller, commander of Carrier Strike Group 7, said. "The radical nature of their government is not reflected in the behavior of their ships at sea."

Miller's command is centered on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and launches aircraft to support coalition forces in Iraq and maritime security operations in the gulf. He said his command interacts with the Iranian navy every day. "We're right off their coast, and the Arabian Gulf is not that wide," he said. "Out here, there is a solid core of professionals that we see every day, and it is not something that is inflammatory at all. In fact, it is transparent."

Iranian navy personnel understand the modus operandi of ships at sea, and the craft sailing in the central gulf and at the straits are larger decks staffed by professionals.

Those in the northern gulf are typically small boats manned by the more radical elements of Iranian society. They routinely shake down and beat Iraqi fishermen who stray into their waters, coalition officials said, and will test the boundary between Iran and Iraq. But "disruptions here are in no one's best interest," Jensen said. "And the Iranians realize this."

The longer-term issues between Iran and the United Nations are part of the ongoing political debate, officials said. But for the time being, relations on the high seas should continue to be courteous and professional.

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