June 15, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday (Friday in Manila) that the United States government blames Iran for attacks on two oil tankers near the Persian Gulf, casting it as the latest in a series of “provocative actions” that have sharply raised tensions in the region.
A US assessment of Iran’s responsibility for the attacks, which forced the evacuation of the crews in international waters, was based in part on intelligence as well as on the expertise needed to carry out the operation, Pompeo told reporters in Washington.
It was also based on a recent series of incidents in the region that the US blames on Iran, including a similar attack on tankers in the area in May and the bombing of an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia by Iranian-backed fighters, he said.
“Taken as a whole these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Pompeo said.
The US planned to raise the attacks at the UN Security Council later Thursday. Pompeo also said the US would defend its forces and interests in the Middle East but gave no details on any immediate plans.
Pompeo did not take questions after giving the brief statement.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have been growing since President Donald Trump last year withdrew from an international agreement aimed at restricting Iran’s nuclear program and reinstated economic sanctions that have had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy.
In May, the US rushed an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the Persian Gulf region in response to what it said were threats from Iran.
Pompeo on Thursday said Iran had attempted the covert deployment of small boats capable of launching missiles, in an apparent description of the threat that prompted the deployment.
In a related development, the US military released a video it said shows 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. Iran denies being involved, accusing the US instead of waging an “Iranophobic campaign” against it.
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 by an explosion.
The ships’ operators offered no immediate explanation on who or what caused the damage against the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous. Each was loaded with petroleum products, and the Front Altair burned for hours, sending up a column of thick, black smoke.
“The US and the international community stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation,” Bill Urban, military spokesman, said. “The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”
Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign ministry dismissed as “baseless” US accusations of being behind attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, adding Washington was trying to “sabotage diplomacy.”
The US had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran — (without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet.
Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net