Iran slams 'baseless' US accusations after Gulf tanker attacks
Iran's foreign ministry slammed "baseless" US accusations it was behind twin attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, adding Washington was trying to "sabotage diplomacy".
The US had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran - (without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet.
That showed it was "abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy - including by @AbeShinzo - and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran".
Zarif regularly uses the term "B Team" to refer to US National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Saudi and Abu Dhabi crown princes Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed, who are all pushing a hard line on Tehran.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of being behind Thursday's attacks which left at least one of the tankers ablaze off the Iranian coast, while the crews had to abandon ship.
"It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks," Pompeo told reporters.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi retorted that Tehran had come to "help" the ships in distress and "saved" their crew as quickly as possible, in a statement on his Telegram channel.
Pompeo said there was strong evidence of Iran's culpability "based on the intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation" and the US assumption that only Iran in the region has the ability to undertake such an operation.
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"Apparently for Mr. Pompeo and other American authorities accusing Iran is the easiest thing to do," said Mousavi, insisting Iran was upholding the burden of securing the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Iran's state-owned English-language TV channel Press TV cast doubt on the "evidence" presented by Washington in support of its accusation against Tehran.
US Central Command said it saw an Iranian patrol boat removing an "unexploded limpet mine" from the hull of the Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous and published grainy video.
Press TV complained that the video missed the moment where the crew of the Iranian boat reportedly removed the alleged mine.
"Facts: (the Guards Corps) was the closest force near the incident site. #Iran was the first to rush to the scene to save the crew members," Press TV said in a tweet.
"Do you think Pentagon footage proves #Washington’s claim of Iran’s 'involvement'?" it added.
Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Thursday that the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf.
Guterres said he strongly condemned any attack against civilian vessels.
"Facts must be established and responsibilities clarified," the UN secretary-general told a council meeting on UN cooperation with the Arab League.
"If there is something the world cannot afford, it is a major confrontation in the Gulf region."
Start a fire
Tensions between Iran and the US have been growing since President Donald Trump last year withdrew from an international agreement aimed at restricting Iran's nuclear programme.
Trump has since re-instated economic sanctions that have had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy.
In May, the US rushed an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the Persian Gulf region in response to what it said were threats from Iran.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned both the targeting of oil tankers and attacks against Saudi Arabia were "dangerous developments".
Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi rebels said they had fired missiles on an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
"Some parties in the region are trying to instigate fires in our region and we must be aware of that," Gheit told the council.
He urged the UN body to "act against those responsible to maintain security and stability in the region."
On 12 May, four oil tankers - two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati - were damaged in still unexplained attacks in the Gulf of Oman off the UAE.
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