Donald Trump called Iran "a nation of terror" on Friday but gave no indication the US plans to retaliate for the alleged Iranian attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
The US military released a grainy video that it said proved Iran was behind Thursday’s attack and allegedly showed Iranian forces trying to remove an unexploded mine from the side of one tanker.
“They didn’t want the evidence left behind,” Mr Trump said. “They are a nation of terror and they’ve changed a lot since I became president.” Iran has denied responsibility.
Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, said on Friday night that responsibility for the attacks "almost certainly lies with Iran".
He had earlier warned that the US were in danger of stumbling into an unwanted war. “At the moment both sides in this dispute think the other side doesn’t want war. The risk you have is that then they doing something provocative that leads to catastrophic consequences that weren’t intended,” Mr Hunt said.
However, the Japanese owner of the oil tankers contradicted the US claims and said he believed the tanker was attacked by “a flying object” rather than a mine or a torpedo. Yukaka Katada, president of the operating company, did not say say whether he believed Iran was responsible.
Iranian military boats were on Friday night preventing two privately owned tug boats from towing away one of the tankers, a US official said.
While tensions remained high in the Persian Gulf region, the US did not appear to be planning any immediate military response to the attack, which came just a month after four other oil vessels were sabotaged in the same area.
Speaking on Fox News, Mr Trump was repeatedly asked how the US was going to respond and replied merely: “We’ll see.”
He repeated his hope that Iran would agree to return to the negotiating table to thrash out a tougher version of the 2015 nuclear agreement, which Mr Trump withdrew the US from. “I’m ready when they are,” Mr Trump said.
Iran has repeatedly said it will not negotiate until the US lifts crippling sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy. “We will not negotiate with the United States,” said Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. “No free nation would ever accept negotiations under pressure.”
Meanwhile, 23 crew members from the Front Altair, one of the oil tankers, remained in Iran at the southern port of Jask, where they were taken after being rescued by Revolutionary Guard forces. Iranian state media released video of the mainly Russian crew saying they were being treated well.
Video shows crewmembers of a tanker hit by suspicious blast in Sea of Oman who were saved by Iranian rescue teams and transferred to Jask port.#SeaofOman pic.twitter.com/XE2Nd5cynF
— Press TV (@PressTV) June 13, 2019
The US Navy meanwhile took 21 crew members from the other tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, back to the ship so they could help tow it to port.
The video released by the US military appeared to show a small Iranian patrol boat pulling alongside the Kokuka Courageous and removing an unexploded limpet mine several hours after the attack. The US said the Iranians were trying to dispose of evidence of their involvement.
“It’s not a great video and you cant see much detail it could but it looks like what the US says it is,” said Richard Meade, the editor of Lloyd’s List, a shipping intelligence agency. “The working assumption is that it was Iran and this footage points in that direction.”
The US also claimed that Iranian forces appeared to be racing towards the tug that initially rescued the crew of the Kokuka Courageous in an effort to pick up the sailors themselves. However, the USS Bainbridge, an American warship, got there first and the sailors were taken aboard.
Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said the attack was carried out by what he called “the B Team” – John Bolton, the US national security advisor; Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister; and Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince – in order to disrupt Iranian diplomacy.
All three men have advocated a hawkish approach against Iran. “Unilateral US actions – including its economic terrorism on Iran – are solely responsible for insecurity and renewed tension in our region,” Mr Zarif said.
While Israel and Saudi Arabia are both archenemies of Iran, neither state has called for major military action in the wake of the oil tanker attacks. Mr Bolton was outspoken on the need to deter Iran last month but appears to be have reined in after Mr Trump grew frustrated with his rhetoric.
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