Iran dismissed as “baseless” Friday US accusations that it carried out twin attacks that left two tankers ablaze in the Gulf of Oman, escalating tensions across the region and sending world oil prices soaring.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Washington would defend its forces and allies in the region, and the United States pressed its case as the UN Security Council met to address the incident — the second in a month in the strategic shipping lane.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Friday that the US administration had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence”.
He accused it of seeking to “sabotage diplomacy” amid a visit to Iran by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and “cover up its economic terrorism against Iran” in enforcing crippling unilateral sanctions.
With tensions spiralling between Iran and the United States, the European Union called for “maximum restraint” and UN chief Antonio Guterres warned the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf.
Iran labelled the apparent attacks “suspicious,” as its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rebuffed overtures by Abe to open talks with US President Donald Trump.
Pompeo said there was strong evidence of Iran’s culpability, after the US Navy said it had spotted an unexploded limpet mine stuck to the hull of one of the vessels.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) released a grainy black-and-white video it said showed an Iranian patrol boat “removing the unexploded limpet mine” from the ship.
“It is the assessment of the United States that the Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks,” Pompeo announced.
“This is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication,” he said.
The two vessels were struck by explosions in the early daylight hours Thursday after passing through the Strait of Hormuz and travelling around 25 nautical miles off Iran’s southern coast headed towards Asia.
The Norwegian-owned Front Altair ethanol tanker was hit by three explosions, according to the Norwegian Maritime Authority and remained ablaze late Thursday.
Explosions also struck the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which was loaded with methanol but the fire on board was soon extinguished. One crew member suffered minor injuries. The ship was on Friday heading towards the Omani port of Khor Fakkan.
There was no claim of responsibility for the blasts which struck both tankers at the waterline.