U.S. lays blame squarely on Iran for oil tanker attacks

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The U.S. claims Iran carried out the suspected attack on the Japanese and Norwegian owned ships. Iran’s foreign minister denies it, calling the accusations part of a plot

Iran and the United States traded accusations Friday over responsibilty for attacks on two petrochemical tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Here is what we know so far:

  • The U.S. Central Command released video late Thursday that it said showed Iranian boats retrieving an unexploded mine from one of the tankers.
  • Iran denied involvement in the attacks and accused Washington of sabotage and “economic terrorism.”
  • Trump said in a television interview that the Iranians “did do it” and tried to recover evidence of their involvement in the tanker attacks.

President Trump rejected Iran’s denials Friday that it attacked two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, insisting in a television interview that “Iran did do it” and pointing to a video released by the U.S. Central Command purporting to show Iranian vessels retrieving an unexploded mine from one of the damaged ships.

Iran called the U.S. allegations against it “alarming.”

In an interview on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” program, Trump said, referring to the Central Command video: “Well, Iran did do it, and you know they did do it because you saw the boat.” He added, “They didn’t want the evidence left behind. . . . It was them that did it.”

Trump denounced Iran’s leadership while also expressing interest in negotiations. “They’re a nation of terror, and they’ve changed a lot since I’ve been president,” he said. “They’re in deep, deep trouble.” He later added: “They’ve been told in very strong terms . . . we want to get them back to the table if they want to get back. I’m in no rush.”

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran — [without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence,” and he accused the Trump White House of “economic terrorism” and “sabotage diplomacy.”

The U.S. Central Command late Thursday made public a dark, grainy video and corresponding timeline suggesting that U.S. military assets in the region observed the Iranian vessels approaching the tanker and removing the device.

Former Obama officials reportedly speaking with Iran to undermine Trump

“At 4:10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine” from the Courageous, said Capt. Bill Urban, a Central Command spokesman.

Senior U.S. officials showed photographs to reporters of the damaged tanker Kokuka Courageous with what the Navy identified as a suspected magnetic mine attached to its hull.

The unexploded weapon was probably applied by hand from an Iranian fast boat, one official said. It is thought to be the same kind of weapon used to blow a hole elsewhere in the same tanker and to do more-serious damage to the other ship that was targeted, the Front Altair, two officials said.

The officials, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because many elements of the investigation remain secret, said the type and timing of the attacks bear Iranian hallmarks. But U.S. officials could not yet say with certainty where the mines were manufactured or exactly how they were laid.

A picture obtained from Iranian news agency Tasnim on June 13, 2019, reportedly shows an Iranian navy boat trying to control a fire on the Norwegian-owned Front Altair tanker said to have been attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman. (Photo by TASNIM NEWS / AFP/Getty Images)
“There’s not too many ways in which this can be done,” one official said. “Very few that don’t involve an individual physically placing it on the ship.”

Germany’s government Friday called for an investigation into the “extraordinarily worrying” incident and said it had no information on who carried out the attacks, the Associated Press reported.

A “spiral of escalation” must be avoided, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters Friday in Berlin, the AP said.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged restraint and said China hopes that “all sides can jointly safeguard navigational safety in the relevant waters,” news agencies reported.

“Nobody wants to see war in the gulf,” he said. “That is not in anyone’s interest.”

The two tankers, which carried petrochemicals from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Gulf of Oman, were targeted early Thursday in what observers said marked a serious escalation in the strategic waterway, through which one-fifth of the world’s oil passes. It connects energy supplies from Arab nations in the gulf, as well as Iran, to consumers around the globe.

The Courageous is a Japanese-owned vessel and was targeted as Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, met with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran.

A U.S. defense official said the USS Bainbridge, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer that was in the area, took on board 21 crew members from the ship. Iran’s navy also rescued crew members from the Front Altair, a Norwegian-owned ship.

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