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U.S. probes Iranian missile claims

State Department works to avert diplomatic crisis

From Andrea Koppel

Tomahawk missiles are fired from submarines or ships.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is investigating Iranian claims that three Tomahawk cruise missiles fired by the United States might have missed their intended target Friday and landed in southwestern Iran.

The Iranian News Agency reported missiles landed in the area of Maniuhi, close to the border with Iraq.

Another rocket was reported to have hit near an oil refinery depot Friday evening in Abadan, some 30 miles east of Basra. Eyewitnesses told reporters two guards at the depot were injured in the blast.

The U.S. military is investigating whether the missiles might have gone off course. Tomahawk missiles are fired from submarines or ships. The missiles have a range of 1,000 miles.

So far, State Department officials said, "radar tracks" of the Tomahawk missiles and overhead satellite images show no evidence of an "impact crater" in the area where Iran claims the missiles hit.

The State Department is trying to hold off a potential diplomatic crisis with Tehran, sending messages through a Swiss intermediary. Tehran has not publicly accused Washington of deliberately targeting its territory.

"Today, we are sending a second message [to Tehran] through the Swiss confirming that we are looking into it," said deputy spokesman Philip Reeker.

"We take seriously Iran's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 1979 after Islamic student revolutionaries overthrew the Shah and took 52 Americans hostage.

Even since, Washington and Tehran have communicated through a Swiss intermediary, which sometimes is the Swiss Embassy.

Reeker said this channel was used Friday and Saturday to tell Tehran the United States planned to investigate the matter.

Anticipating the potential for such problems, the Bush administration engaged in secret high-level diplomacy with Iranian officials weeks before the war began.

U.S. officials said the talks paved the way for a policy of "active neutrality" between the United States and Iran -- similar to how the two nations handled the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power.

This time around, officials said, Tehran granted the United States overflight rights for search and rescue missions, although Iran has not publicly acknowledged doing so.

Although Iran is not a member of the "coalition of the willing" -- it also does not support the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

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