Arab League chief calls on Iran to ‘reverse course’ after tanker attacks
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Arab League chief calls on Iran to ‘reverse course’ after tanker attacks

Ahmed Aboul Gheit warns Iranians against escalation with US, says determination of who was behind incident ‘only a matter of time’

An oil tanker on fire in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019 near the strategic Strait of Hormuz where two ships were reportedly attacked. (AP Photo/ISNA)
An oil tanker on fire in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019 near the strategic Strait of Hormuz where two ships were reportedly attacked. (AP Photo/ISNA)

The head of the Arab League on Friday warned Iran against escalation with the United States, and noted the conflicting reports on Thursday’s alleged attacks against a pair of tankers off Iran’s coast.

“My call to my Iranian — and I call them Iranian brothers: Be careful and reverse course because you’re pushing everybody towards a confrontation that no one would be safe if it happens,” Ahmed Aboul Gheit said after meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN headquarters in New York.

Aboul Gheit, the secretary general of the pan-Arab bloc, addressed the conflicting claims of responsibility for the attack on two ships near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The US said Iran is responsible for the attack, a charge Tehran denies.

“We believe that responsibilities need to be clearly defined,” Aboul Gheit said. “The facts will be revealed, I am sure, it’s only a matter of time.”

Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab Foreign Minister’s meeting in Cairo on July 27, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have skyrocketed following the incident.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the sabotage, calling the country “a nation of terror” and saying the attack had “Iran written all over it.”

Calling into “Fox & Friends” Friday, Trump said of the attacks, “Iran did do it.” He cited video purporting to show an Iranian boat removing what the US says is an unexploded mine from one of the vessels.

“You know they did it because you saw the boat,” Trump said. “I guess one of the mines didn’t explode and it’s probably got essentially Iran written all over it.”

A US official told CNN on Friday that Iranian forces in the Gulf of Oman fired a missile at a US drone hours before the alleged attack. The drone had spotted Iranian boats approaching the tankers before the sabotage occurred. The surface-to-air missile launched at the drone missed its target and fell into the sea, the official said.

The US military on Friday released a video it said shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers, suggesting the Islamic republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.

The black-and-white footage, as well as still photographs released by the US military’s Central Command on Friday, appeared to show the limpet mine on the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous.

The ships’ operators offered no immediate explanation on who or what caused the damage against the Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous. Each was loaded with petroleum products, and the Front Altair burned for hours, sending up a column of thick, black smoke.

The suspected attacks occurred at dawn Thursday about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the southern coast of Iran. The Front Altair, loaded with the flammable hydrocarbon mixture naphtha from the United Arab Emirates, radioed for help as it caught fire. A short time later, the Kokuka Courageous, loaded with methanol from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also called for help. The US Navy rushed to assist the stricken vessels.

Tehran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday fired back at Washington, accusing the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia of a plot to “sabotage diplomacy,” and appeared to insinuate that those countries were behind the assaults.

Iran earlier denied involvement via a statement from its mission to the United Nations.

“The US economic war and terrorism against the Iranian people as well as its massive military presence in the region have been and continue to be the main sources of insecurity and instability in the wider Persian Gulf region and the most significant threat to its peace and security,” the statement said.

In this photo dated Thursday June 13, 2019, made available by the Norwegian shipowner Frontline, showing the crude oil tanker Front Altair seen through glass observation window as water cannon operate during the firefighting of the fire onboard the Norwegian ship in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. Navy rushed to assist the stricken vessels in the Gulf of Oman, off the coast of Iran, as two oil tankers came under suspected attack amid heightened tension between Iran and the U.S. (Frontline via AP)

Thursday’s attack resembled that of an attack in May targeting four oil tankers off the Emirati port of Fujairah. US officials similarly accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines, which are magnetic and attach to the hulls of a ship. The mines disable, but don’t sink, a vessel.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told journalists on Thursday that the US assessment of Iran’s involvement was based in part on intelligence, as well as the expertise needed for the operation.

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, Pompeo said. He also tied Iran to a drone attack by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline around the same time.

Tensions have escalated in the Mideast as Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that Trump repudiated last year. In the deal, Tehran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

Now, Iran is threatening to resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels if European nations don’t offer it new terms to the deal by July 7.

Already, Iran said it has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium. Meanwhile, US sanctions have cut off opportunities for Iran to trade its excess uranium and heavy water abroad, putting Tehran on course to violate terms of the nuclear deal regardless.

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