US president Donald Trump has blamed Iran for the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, as Washington and Tehran traded accusations over the incident that has heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Speaking a day after Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, pointed the finger at Tehran for the attacks on Thursday that led to a jump in oil prices, Mr Trump said there was no doubt that Iran was the culprit. “Iran did do it and you know they did it,” he told Fox & Friends in a telephone interview.
Referring to a video released by the Pentagon that the US said showed an Iranian military vessel recovering an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two tankers, Mr Trump said: “You saw the boat at night.”
However, Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, on Friday rejected accusations that the Islamic republic had any connection with the tanker attacks, and said that Washington was a danger to the Middle East.
“The US government has turned into a serious threat to the stability of the region and the world over the past two years through misusing its economic, financial and military capacities,” Mr Rouhani said. The US had “disrupted all international structures and rules by taking an aggressive stance”, he added in comments carried by Iran’s official news agency.
Mr Rouhani was speaking at a security summit in attended by representatives of Russia and China, both of which signed the nuclear deal that the US and European powers agreed with Tehran in 2015. He said the accord, from which the US withdrew last year, proved that any problem could be solved better through dialogue rather than sanctions and war.
Mr Pompeo on Thursday said the US had made its determination based on intelligence, the weapons used in the attack and the sophistication of the attack. He described the attack as a threat to international peace and a blatant assault on navigation. It was “an unacceptable escalation of tensions by Iran”, he added.
A grainy video purporting to show an Iranian boat removing a mine from one of the tankers in an apparent bid to hide the incriminating act was also released.
Some crew members of the Kokuka Courageous, one of the tankers attacked, “witnessed a flying object”, according to Yutaka Katada, president of Kokuka Sangyo, the vessel’s operator.
“The crew told us something came flying at the ship, and they found a hole,” said Mr Katada. “Then some crew witnessed the second shot.” He added that there was no possibility that the ship, which was carrying 25,000 tonnes of methanol, was hit by a torpedo.
While oil prices rose as much as 4 per cent in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, they have since pulled back. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down 23 cents on Friday at $61.08 a barrel, barely $1 above where it traded on Wednesday before the tanker incidents. Traders said that while there was concern about threats to supplies, this was offset by fears about the impact of a US-China trade war on the global economy.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said the tanker incident was “suspicious”, given that Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, had been meeting with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese president, at the time of the twin explosions.
Mr Zarif described the US as engaging in “sabotage diplomacy” aimed at covering up its “economic terrorism” against Iran. He said this was being pushed by the “B team”, which it is believed refers to US national security adviser John Bolton, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs of the United Arab Emirates, wrote on Twitter on Friday that Mr Zarif’s credibility was diminishing, saying de-escalation required “wise actions not empty words”. He earlier described the tanker attacks as a “dangerous escalation” and called on the international community to ensure regional security.
Soaring tensions in the Gulf follow a spate of attacks against oil infrastructure and civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The two close Arab allies have led attempts to contain what they regard as Iranian interference in the Middle East.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have welcomed the US tightening of sanctions on Iranian crude oil exports and Washington’s decision to heighten its military presence in the Gulf.
Iran-allied Yemeni Houthi militia launched a missile attack on an airport in southern Saudi Arabia this week. Four oil tankers were sabotaged off the UAE coast last month, which Mr Bolton blamed on Iran, and a Houthi drone targeted a Saudi oil pipeline.
The attacks on international shipping have rekindled memories of the 1980s tanker war when the bloody Iran-Iraq war spilled over into the Gulf with years of escalating attacks on merchant shipping.
The US eventually intervened in 1987 by deploying naval vessels to escort tankers through the oil choke point of the Strait of Hormuz.
Additional reporting by David Sheppard and Seth O’Farrell in London
Timeline: rising tensions in the Gulf
John Bolton, US national security adviser, announces that the Trump administration is deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran.
Four tankers, including two Saudi vessels, are hit by “sabotage” attacks in the Gulf of Oman, off the coast of Fujairah, one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. There were no casualties or oil spills but the vessels were damaged. US officials said they suspected Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.
Two Saudi Arabian oil pumping stations along a pipeline to the Red Sea port of Yanbu are hit by drone attacks. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attacks. The US and Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of smuggling weapons to the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia launches air strikes on Yemen’s capital in retaliation against the Houthis.
Houthi rebels fire a rocket at Abha International Airport in southern Saudi Arabia, wounding at least 26 people.
Two oil tankers, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, are attacked in the Gulf of Oman. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo points the finger at Tehran. Iran denies the accusations. The US military releases a video that it says shows Iran’s involvement.