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Fri 14 Jun 2019 01:05 AM

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US blames Iran for oil tanker attacks as Gulf tensions climb

Senior Trump administration officials say that at least one of the ships was attacked by mines

US blames Iran for oil tanker attacks as Gulf tensions climb
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

The Trump administration blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers near the entrance to the Gulf, escalating tensions between the two rivals despite denials from officials in Tehran that they were behind the incidents.

“The United States will defend its forces, interests and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told reporters Thursday in Washington, noting that Iran had previously threatened to curtail oil transport in the Strait of Hormuz.

Senior administration officials said that at least one of the ships was attacked by mines. In a briefing with reporters, they showed a photo of one ship, the “Courageous,” with a hole in its side caused by a mine that exploded, they said, and an undetonated mine lodged inside.

The officials said they did not know for sure whether the mines were Iranian. The US concluded that Iran was responsible for the attack based on intelligence sources and the absence of any better explanation, the officials said. They declined to elaborate on the intelligence sources.

The officials said Iran conducted the attack to demonstrate that it’s not interested in discussions with the US and to escalate the conflict.

Iranian officials have denied any involvement, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif suggesting that Iran’s enemies may have been behind the attacks and reiterating calls for a regional dialogue.

“Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired,” Zarif wrote on Twitter earlier on Thursday. Pompeo offered no evidence and took no questions from reporters after reading a short statement blaming Iran.

Global benchmark Brent crude jumped almost a dollar a barrel immediately after Pompeo’s remarks, but quickly gave up most of those gains to trade at $61.25 a barrel, up 2.1 percent on the day.

The attacks on Thursday, including an assault on a Japanese-operated vessel, were the second in a month to hit ships near the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint, through which about 40% of the world’s seaborne oil travels.

They came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an ally of Donald Trump who maintains relations with Iranian leaders, visited Tehran in an effort to ease tensions.