Iran on Friday accused the US and its allies of trying to sabotage diplomacy in the Middle East and blamed it for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
The incident took place on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz, a geopolitical flashpoint amid rising tensions between the two nations. Dozens of crew members were rescued after blasts on the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous and the Front Altair, owned by a Norwegian company.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the “unprovoked attacks”, saying Washington made its assessment based on intelligence about the type of weapons used and the level of knowledge necessary to execute the operation.
Hours after Pompeo’s statement, the US Central Command released a video showing, according to its spokesman Bill Urban, a naval patrol of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard approaching the Japanese vessel after the explosions.
The patrol was seen and recorded taking down an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of the Kokuka Courageous, Urban claimed.
Tehran, however, denied any role in any such attacks in the region and instead blamed the US for the incident.
Iran’s UN Mission said in a statement that the government “categorically rejects” the US claim that Tehran was responsible for the latest incidents against oil tankers which it condemns “in the strongest possible terms”, state-run IRNA news agency reported.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said attempted sabotage was evident because Washington had blamed his country for the attacks without presenting any evidence to back up its accusations.
“The US immediately launching accusations against Iran, without any objective or circumstantial evidence, only makes it clearer that Team B is moving to Plan B: sabotaging diplomacy and hiding its economic terrorism against Iran,” Zarif said.
The head of Iranian diplomacy’s reference to the B team is generally believed to be an attribution to the US National Security Adviser John Bolton, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, Efe news reported.
“I warned of exactly this scenario a few months ago, not because I’m clairvoyant, but because I recognize where the B Team is coming from,” said Zarif, who had already described the attack as being very suspicious.
Two tankers, one belonging to a Norwegian shipowner and the other to a Japanese concern, were hit by explosions on Thursday as they left the Strait of Hormuz some 30 miles off the coast of Iran, which said one of its ships had rescued 44 crew members from the stricken vessels.
Pompeo said the attacks were similar to those which took place against four oil tankers in a United Arab Emirates port in May, which Washington also blamed on Tehran.
The government of Saudi Arabia described the events as a “terrorist attack,” but did not indicate who was behind them.
Thursday’s attacks coincided with a visit to Tehran by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who tried to intercede with the Iranian authorities to reduce tension between Iran and the US in the Middle East.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told Abe that he would not negotiate with the US while under sanctions and added that he did not have a message to convey to US President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Japanese authorities asked for its ships to exercise caution in the wake of the attacks.
Relations between the US and Iran plummeted to fresh lows after Trump decided to withdraw from the 2015 international nuclear deal and apply fresh sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sector.