As accusations fly in Gulf tanker row, Russia urges restraint

Russia warned against “baseless accusations” and a “sober appraisal of evidence” after Iran and the United States traded charges over the reported attacks on commercial tankers in the Gulf of Oman. 

The mysterious incidents, which caused damage to two tankers on Thursday, have ratcheted up already high tensions between Tehran and Washington, prompting fears of a regional conflagration and sending oil prices soaring.

Saudi Arabi and the United Kingdom on Sunday sided with the Washington’s assessment that Iran was responsible for last week’s incidents, which left one tanker ablaze and both adrift in the Gulf.

Britain’s stance drew a diplomatic protest from Tehran, which vehemently denies the claims. 

Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran’s parliament, accused Washington of staging the tanker attacks “after the failure of its harsh sanctions” on Tehran, according to the official IRNA news agency.

The US has re-imposed and tightened punishing sanctions on Iran in the year since it exited an international accord that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

US President Donald Trump said the “maximum pressure” campaign was aimed at forcing Iran to negotiate a new deal that also encompasses its ballistic missiles programme and addressed its support for regional armed groups.  

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But Larijani, speaking in the Iranian parliament, said it was “comical” that the US was urging Iran to turn to diplomacy after launching a “full-scale economic war” against the country. 

‘We don’t want war’

Hours later, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was “unmistakable” that Iran was responsible for the suspected attacks, but said Washington did not seek war with Tehran. 

In an interview with ‘Fox News Sunday’, Pompeo said there was other evidence beyond a video released by the US military, which it said purported to show Iranian soldiers removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous hours after the suspected attacks.

“The intelligence community has lots of data, lots of evidence. The world will come to see much of it,” he said. 

“We don’t want war. We’ve done what we can to deter this,” he added, vowing to take “all actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise”, to guarantee safe navigation through vital shipping lanes in the Gulf

Both Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom have backed the US assessment. 

Earlier in the day, Saudi Crown Prince Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) told the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat that Iran deliberately attacked the ship and urged the international community to take a “decisive stand”.

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He also accused Iran “and its proxies” of the May 12 attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah, and warned that he “won’t hesitate” to tackle any threats to the kingdom. 

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also said the responsibility for the reported attacks “almost certainly” lies with Iran.

“We have done our own intelligence assessment. We have got videos of what happened. We have seen evidence. We don’t believe anyone else could have done this,” he told the BBC. 

Calling for “de-escalation”, Hunt said he was “absolutely clear” that Washington wanted the situation to end in negotiations.

Hunt’s remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Iran, with a senior official slamming the diplomat’s “anti-Iranian” statement “unacceptable”. Mahmoud Barimani, managing director of Iran’s foreign ministry, summoned the UK’s ambassador Rob Macaire to lodge a formal protest, according to IRNA. 

Barimani told Macaire that Hunt had “hastily and blindly” repeated US allegations against Iran, and urged Britain to “elaborate on the issue and to correct the position”. 

‘Hasty conclusions’

As the accusations flew, Russia weighed in. 

“Such incidents can undermine the foundations of the world economy. That’s why it’s hardly possible to accept baseless accusations in this situation,” said Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin. 

“We always urge a sober appraisal of the situation and to wait for more or less convincing evidence to appear,” he said on Russian television. 

‘Ridiculous, dangerous’: Iran denies US claims over Gulf tankers (3:13)

Moscow “severely” condemned the attacks, he said, warning against drawing “hasty conclusions”.

The United Nations, Germany, Qatar and others have called for an independent probe to establish what happened. 

Meanwhile, the two damaged tankers arrived safely at locations off the UAE coast. 

The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous had “arrived safely at the designated anchorage”, the vessel’s Singapore-based BSM Management said in a statement on Sunday. The ship’s crew were “safe and well”, it added.

The other ship, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, was under safe tow by tug boats towards an area off the coast of the eastern Emirati port of Fujairah.

“First inspections are under way and no hot spots have been identified following the fire,” while all crew members were in Dubai, the vessel’s owners said in a statement.

The UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Saturday called on world powers “to secure international navigation and access to energy”. Thursday’s attacks took place southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital corridor connecting the energy-rich states of the Middle East to the global market.