Trump blames Iran in tanker blasts, says sea lane not at risk

397

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – US President Donald Trump declared
Friday that a mysterious attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman had
Iran “written all over it,” rejecting Tehran’s denial that it had any
involvement.

As US-Iranian tensions soared, Trump dismissed previous threats by Tehran
that in case of conflict it could block the Hormuz Strait — a narrow seaway
vital to the world’s oil supplies.

Speaking hours after the US military released grainy footage it said showed
an Iranian patrol boat removing an “unexploded limpet mine” from one of the
tankers, Trump was emphatic.

“Iran did do it,” Trump told Fox News. “You know they did it because you
saw the boat. I guess one of the mines didn’t explode and it’s probably got
essentially Iran written all over it.”

“You saw the boat at night, successfully trying to take the mine off — and
that was exposed,” he added.

Iran rejected the US accusations.

Iranian 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.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent
investigation.

“It’s very important to know the truth. It’s very important that
responsibilities are clarified,” Guterres told reporters at UN headquarters
in New York.

“Obviously that can only be done if there is an independent entity that
verifies those facts.”

Meanwhile, Britain’s assessment found that Iran was “almost certainly”
behind the attacks, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

London pinned the blame for Thursday’s attack on the Islamic Revolutionary
Guard — a vast and powerful branch of the Iranian military.

– Oil exports choke point –

Iran has repeatedly warned in the past that it could block the Hormuz
Strait in a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure to any attack by
the United States.

Doing so would disrupt oil tankers traveling out of the Gulf region to the
Indian Ocean and global export routes.

Trump played down the threat.

“It’s not going to be closed, it’s not going to be closed for long and they
know it. They’ve been told in very strong terms,” Trump said.

Oil prices have surged in response to the rising tensions.

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid al-Falih said the kingdom was
monitoring the situation with “great concern” and called for action to secure
maritime traffic, the Saudi SPA news agency said.

Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, is a bitter regional rival of Iran.

China called for all sides to “resolve the conflict through dialogue,”
while the European Union called for “maximum restraint.”

Russia, which has close — if sometimes strained — links to Iran, warned
through its foreign ministry against “hasty conclusions.”

– Sailors rescued –

The oil tankers were 10 nautical miles apart and headed to Asia when they
were struck by explosions early Thursday after passing through the Strait of
Hormuz some 25 nautical miles off Iran’s southern coast.

The Front Altair, owned by the Oslo-listed company Frontline, was carrying
naphtha, a refined petroleum product. It was hit by three explosions,
according to Norwegian officials.

Explosions also struck the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which was
loaded with methanol, but the fire on board was soon extinguished. One crew
member suffered minor injuries and the ship was headed Friday toward the UAE
port of Khor Fakkan.

There was no claim of responsibility for the blasts, which struck both
tankers at the waterline.

Iran said its navy rescued several dozen crew members from the two vessels,
while the US Navy said it had picked up 21 from the Kokuka Courageous.

Iran’s English-language Press TV aired footage of rescued crewmen from the
Front Altair, saying they were all in “full health.”

The crew of the Kokuka Courageous saw a “flying object” before a second
blast on board, the operator’s head said Friday.

Washington has dispatched the destroyer USS Mason to the scene “to provide
assistance,” CENTCOM said in a statement while Oman said it sent two navy
vessels to assist.

– Iran or ‘proxies?’ –

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday’s tanker explosions were
“the latest in a series of attacks” he blamed on Iran or its “proxies,”
including Yemeni rebel missile strikes which wounded 26 civilians at a Saudi
airport on Wednesday.

A Saudi-led coalition which is fighting the rebels it accuses of being
Iranian proxies said its air defenses had intercepted a new rebel attack on
an airport in the Islamic kingdom on Friday.

The abortive strike involving five rebel drones targeted the southwestern
city of Khamis Mushait, home to a huge airbase which has been the main
launchpad of the coalition’s more than four-year bombing campaign in Yemen.

The United States has also accused Iran over May 12 attacks on four tankers
anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah.

The preliminary findings of an UAE-led investigation found that a state
actor was responsible but stopped short of naming Iran.

image_printPrint