TEHRAN – Iran has accused on Friday the United States and its allies of trying to sabotage diplomacy in the Middle East and blamed it for attacks on two oil tankers.
The incident took place in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz, a geopolitical flashpoint amid rising tensions between the two nations.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said attempted sabotage was evident because the US 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 the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
“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, suffered 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.
The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, accused Iran of being behind what happened, justifying his accusation by citing intelligence reports, the weapons used and the level of knowledge necessary to execute the operation.
He also insisted the attacks were similar to those which took place against four oil tankers in a United Arab Emirates port last month which Washington also blamed on Tehran.
“It is the assessment of the US government that Iran is responsible for today’s attacks in the Gulf of Oman,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Thursday.
“These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran.”
Hours after Pompeo’s statement, the US Central Command released a video that shows, according to a 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.
Iran has denied having been behind any such attacks in the region.
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 the 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, said to 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.
“We have not learned who carried out the attacks and how,” transport minister Keiichi Ishii told a news conference.
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.
Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani has also said his country would partially end its compliance with the pact, which saw Tehran trade in much of its nuclear program for a slight lifting of international sanctions.
The US is allied to Saudi Arabia and Israel, two of Iran’s regional foes.