Tensions escalate as US blames Iran for tanker attacks in Gulf

Updated: Jun 15, 2019, 11:39 IST | Agencies

Tehran rubbishes accusations and accuses Washington of seeking to 'sabotage diplomacy'

Tensions escalate as US blames Iran for tanker attacks in Gulf
Iranian navy patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous

Washington: The US has blamed Iran for the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday as the incident appeared to have escalated the ongoing tension with the Iranian regime. The latest incident came amid spiralling tensions between Tehran and Washington which has pointed the finger at Iran over May 12 attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah.

"It is the assessment of the US government that Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday. He said the assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.

Damage caused by an explosion and a likely limpet mine on the hull of Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman. Pics/AFP
Damage caused by an explosion and a likely limpet mine on the hull of Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman. Pics/AFP

"This is only the latest in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests, and they should be understood in the context of 40 years of unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations," he said. Pompeo said he has instructed US Ambassador to the UN Jonathan Cohen to raise Iran's attacks in the UNSC meeting.

Later in a tweet, President Donald Trump said Iran is not ready for a deal right now. "While I very much appreciate PM Abe going to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I personally feel it is too soon to even think about making a deal. They are not ready, and neither are we!" he tweeted.

'Baseless accusations'
Iran dismissed as "baseless" on Friday US accusations. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the US had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence". He accused the US of seeking to "sabotage diplomacy" as Japanese PM Abe visited Iran.

With tensions spiralling between Iran and the US, the European Union called for "maximum restraint" and UN chief Antonio Guterres warned against a Gulf confrontation. But Iran labelled the attacks "suspicious," as its supreme leader Khamenei rebuffed overtures by Abe to open talks with US President Trump. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the US a "serious threat to global stability" as he attended an international forum in Kyrgyzstan.

No. of oil tankers attacked in Gulf since May

US claims Iran removed unexploded mine from oil tanker

The US military on Friday released a video it said showed Iran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene. The US Navy rushed to assist the stricken vessels in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Iran, including one that was set ablaze Thursday by an explosion. Iran has denied being involved in the attack, calling it an "unfounded claim" in the US' "Iranophobic campaign." However, Iran previously used mines against oil tankers in 1987 and 1988 in the "Tanker War," when the US Navy escorted ships through the region. The black-and-white footage, and still photos released by the US military's Central Command, appeared to show the limpet mine on the Kokuka Courageous. A Revolutionary Guard patrol boat pulled alongside the ship and removed the mine, Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said. "The US and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation," Urban said.

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