(CNSNews.com) - A State Department spokesman told reporters on Tuesday that "disturbing" actions by Iran -- including confrontations at sea and threats to shoot down U.S. planes -- "needlessly escalate tensions."
Pressed by Fox News's James Rosen, spokesman Mark Toner also indicated it's possible that the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran has emboldened the Islamic regime:
"Well, again, I don't have all the facts and figures in front of me, but we have seen some disturbing, as you cited, trends," Toner told Rosen.
"And I think two things. One is that in our view, it only makes the significance of the nuclear agreement that much more important because the last thing anyone would want to see in the region is a nuclear-armed Iran.
"But it also shows that Iran has a choice to make. And if it wants to engage further with the West, following on the engagement that led to the nuclear agreement, more productively and play a more constructive role in the region or continue with, as I said, its bad behavior. Thus far we've not seen that shift to a constructive engagement."
Rosen followed up: "But you can't rule out that in fact this deal has served as a cause for this more aggressive posture," he said.
"I mean, I can't rule that out," Toner said. "It's just, you know, we've -- you know, Iran like many countries has an internal political process that's defined by a lot of different dynamics. But I can't give an assessment one way or the other in that regard."
The commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet said on Tuesday that two U.S. Navy patrol aircraft flying in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz were threatened by Iran on Saturday. The Iranians said they would fire missiles at the American jets if they did not change course.
Toner said his response to that provocation "would be in line with what we've said, because frankly, there have been previous incidents much like this. I think we had one a week or so ago. And they're concerning, obviously. They escalate tensions -- and needlessly escalate tensions, frankly. And our forces within the area, within the region, are operating according to Freedom of Navigation standards.
"We have conveyed our concerns to Iran. I know the DOD has conveyed its concerns."
Given all those concerns, Rosen suggested that one of the byproducts of the nuclear deal "has been to embolden the regime to worse rather than better behavior."
"Well, we always were very clear that the objective in reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran was to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which we I think all agree would only exacerbate the threat in the region of Iran as well as exacerbate tensions in the region and pose a real national security risk to the United States.
"We never said that this was going to solve all of Iran's -- excuse me -- bad behavior. And in fact, you know, we would like -- as much as we would like to see Iran's behavior change in the region, we've not seen a significant shift."