Iran denies tanker attacks as tensions soar

Bill Foley  AP

Bill Foley AP

The most radical elements in Iran's military are aiming to show that they can "stop the flow of oil" through the Strait of Hormuz in case of a United States or a Saudi attack.

The US later released a blurry video which they said showed Iran removing an unexploded mine from an oil tanker - which Mr Trump referred to in his claims.

But in remarks to Japanese media, the president of the company that owns the ship said the vessel wasn't damaged by a mine. An individual stands up on the bow of the boat and can be seen removing an object from the tanker's hull. "Without this route we can not transport gasoline and heavy oil to Japan", Katada said.

"It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks", Pompeo told reporters.

Javad Zarif denied Iran was behind the Gulf of Oman tanker attacks. "The video now nails it".

An Iranian official, meanwhile, accused Washington of trying to destabilise relations between Iran and the worldwide community.

In the incident, two commercial oil tankers were hit by explosions and caught fire in the Gulf of Oman, prompting the evacuation and rescue of dozens of crew members.

The official, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive information, said the suspected Iranian vessel did not bear any flags, nor did the crew members wear any uniforms.

"Unless very carefully examined, it would be hard to tell the tanker was operated or owned by Japanese", he said.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani threw blame for the increased tensions at the US, saying Trump was using America's "economic, financial and military capabilities as tools" in order to "destroy global rules and structures", according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Friday.

In 2018, the USA pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal reached in 2015 that was aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear activities.

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Britain said it took the matter "extremely seriously" and, if Iran was involved, "it is a deeply unwise escalation".

The two tankers - one carrying oil and the other transporting chemicals - were attacked near the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route that has been the focal point of regional tensions for decades. About 30% of the world's seaborne crude oil travels through this strait.

At the United Nations, the Security Council met to discuss the tanker incidents late Thursday at the request of the USA but took no action.

Pompeo said US policy was to make economic and diplomatic efforts to bring Iran back to negotiations on a broader deal.

However Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, hit back, writing on Twitter that the USA had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran-w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence".

Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed.

In abandoning the nuclear deal, Trump said he wanted Iran to curb its nuclear work and development of missiles, as well as halt support for proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. He called reports of mine attack "false". "Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning", Zarif tweeted Thursday.

It was also based on recent incidents in the region, which the US also blamed on Iran, including the use of limpet mines in the Fujairah attack, he said.

"We have received a report saying that something seems to have flew in, there was an explosion and it created a hole in the body of the ship", he added.

The US has blamed Iran for earlier attacks on oil tankers, saying Iranian-made limpet mines were used to attack four oil tankers on May 12 off the Emirati port of Fujairah.

Alireza Namvar Haghighi, the Iranian Political Science scholar at the University of Toronto, said that "all-in-all Abe's meetings (with the Iranian leaders) are considered positive, which keeps opening the possibility of diplomacy for a number of reasons".

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