DUBAI, June 14 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Iran on Friday for attacks on two oil tankers at the entrance to the Gulf despite Tehran’s denials, stoking fears of a confrontation in the vital oil shipping route.
Iran has dismissed earlier U.S. charges that it was behind Thursday’s attacks that crippled two tankers and has previously threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of globally consumed oil passes, if its oil exports were halted.
Thursday’s blasts followed a similar attacks a month earlier on four tankers, which Washington also blamed on Tehran.
Asked how he planned to address Tehran and prevent any further incidents, Trump told Fox News: “We’re going to see.”
He also said that any move to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which the world’s biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers ship crude, would not last long.
The U.S. military released a video on Thursday it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were behind the blasts that struck the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, at the mouth of the Gulf.
Iran said it was being used as a “convenient” scapegoat.
Tehran and Washington have both said they have no interest in starting a war. But this has done little to assuage concerns that the two arch foes could stumble into a conflict.
Oil prices surged on Thursday, reflecting the jitters, although they have since given up some of those gains.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday the world could not afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region”.
China, the European Union and others have called for restraint from all sides. Germany said the U.S. video was not enough to apportion blame for Thursday’s attack.
The U.S. military said black-and-white footage it filmed from a U.S. aircraft showed Iran’s Guards on one of their patrol boats drawing up to the Kokuka Courageous and removing an unexploded limpet mine from its hull.
The Japanese-owned tanker, abandoned by its crew, was being towed to a port in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, after a Dutch firm said it had been appointed to salvage the ships.
The second tanker, the Norwegian-owned Front Altair, which was set ablaze by a blast, was still languishing at sea, although the fire that had charred the hull had been put out.
Iranian-U.S. tensions ratcheted up after Trump pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Since then Washington has toughened its sanctions regime, force Iran’s oil customers to slash their imports.
Iran’s crude exports fell to about 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018, starving Iran’s economy of its main source of revenues.
Washington has also blamed Iran or its proxies for attacks on May 12 that crippled four oil tankers in the same area. In addition, it has said Tehran was behind May 14 drone strikes on two Saudi oil-pumping stations. Tehran has denied the charges.
“These accusations are alarming,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, adding that blaming Iran for Thursday’s attacks was “convenient” for U.S. officials.
Tehran has said the United States and its regional allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were “warmongering” by making accusations against Iran.
The cause of Thursday’s blasts remains unclear. An initial report that Kokuka Courageous was struck by torpedo was dismissed by a source familiar the issue. The owner of the tanker that carried methanol later said it was hit by two “flying objects”.
A source has said a magnetic mine could have caused the explosion on Front Altair, which had a cargo of naphtha.
Iranian TV showed 23 crew in Iran believed to be from Front Altair on Friday, and said it experts would assess whether they could return to the ship. The crew from Kokuka Courageous were picked up and handed to a U.S. Navy ship on Thursday.
U.S. and European security officials cautioned against jumping to conclusions, leaving open the possibility that Iran’s proxies, or someone else, might be behind Thursday’s attacks.
Britain said it took the matter “extremely seriously” and, if Iran was involved, “it is a deeply unwise escalation”.
The Trump administration said in May it would send troops and other forces to the Middle East, citing Iranian threats, a move Tehran has called “psychological warfare”.
Pompeo said U.S. policy was to make economic and diplomatic efforts to bring Iran back to negotiations on a broader deal.
Thursday’s attack took place while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Tehran with a message from Trump. Japan was a big Iranian oil importer until Trump stepped up sanctions.
But Iran dismissed Trump’s overture, details of which were not made public. “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said.
In abandoning the nuclear deal, Trump said he wanted Iran to curb its nuclear work and development of missiles, as well as halt support for proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Analysts said Iran could have carried out the attacks in a bid to gain negotiating leverage.
“There is always the possibility that somebody is trying to blame the Iranians,” said Jon Alterman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“But there is the greater likelihood that this represents an effort to bolster Iranian diplomacy by creating a perceived international urgency to have the United States and Iran talk.”
Cardinal George Pell’s Appeal Denied; Convictions On Sex Abuse Will Stand
MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian court has confirmed convictions against the most superior Catholic to be found condemned of child sex abuse.
The Victoria state Court of Appeal by a 2-1 majority ruling published Wednesday denied Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of the unanimous verdicts a jury issued in December finding Pope Francis’ former finance minister condemned of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997.
At the time, Pell had just become archbishop of Australia’s second-largest city and had established an international-first reimbursement method for victims of clergical sexual abuse.
His lawyers are predicted to appeal the decision in the High Court, Australia’s final arbitrator.
Attorney Cites Trump’s Rhetoric In National Anthem Attack On Montana Teenager
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The attorney for a Montana man accused of throwing a 13-year-old boy to the ground at a rodeo because the teenager didn’t remove his hat during the national anthem says his client believes he was acting on an order from President Trump.
Attorney Lance Jasper told the Missoulian newspaper that the president’s “rhetoric” contributed to 39-year-old Curt Brockway’s disposition when he grabbed the boy by the throat and slammed him to the ground, fracturing his skull at the Mineral County Fairgrounds on Saturday.
Jasper said Brockway is an Army veteran who believes he was acting on an order by his commander in chief. He adds that Brockway’s decision-making has been affected by a brain injury he suffered in a vehicle crash.
Brockway is charged with felony assault on a minor.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: ‘I am very much alive’
The comments to NPR from Ginsburg, 86 — who earlier this year took a break from the court after undergoing cancer surgery — come amid concerns from progressives that her death or retirement would give President Donald Trump an opportunity to replace a reliably liberal seat on the court with a conservative justice. Ginsburg has sought in recent days to signal that her health is stable and she has no plans to step down with the court facing major issues in its next session on immigration, gun control, gay rights and possibly abortion.
During Ginsburg’s recent surgery, doctors removed from her left lung two cancerous nodules, which were found during scans taken after the justice sustained three fractured ribs in a fall last November. In the interview with NPR, published Wednesday, Ginsburg made reference to the late Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, who suggested in 2009 that she would soon die from the pancreatic cancer she had been diagnosed with.
“There was a senator — I think it was after the pancreatic cancer — who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months. That senator — whose name I’ve forgotten — is now himself dead. And I am very much alive,” Ginsburg said.
In the NPR interview, Ginsburg also weighed in on an idea circulating among some Democrats to increase the number of justices on the court should a Democrat be elected president, saying she disagreed.
“Well, if anything, it would make the court appear partisan. It would be that one side saying, ‘when we’re in power, it was only to enlarge the number of judges so we will have more people who will vote the way we want them to,'” she said. “So I am not at all in favor of that solution to what I see as a temporary situation.”
Ginsburg’s health has become the subject of much attention in recent years. In November 2014, she underwent a heart procedure to have a stent placed in her right coronary artery, and in 2009, she was treated for early stages of pancreatic cancer.
In 1999, just six years after being sworn in as an associate justice, she successfully underwent surgery to treat colon cancer.
Last July, Ginsburg said she hopes to stay on the bench past 2020. On Tuesday, she revealed that she traveled with the late Justice John Paul Stevens “in the last week of his life” to Lisbon, Portugal, for a conference where the two justices attended meetings, visited museums, vineyards and castles.
“His conversation was engaging, his memory amazing,” she said on Tuesday. As they were leaving the US ambassador’s residence during their last evening in Lisbon, Ginsburg told Stevens, “My dream is to remain on the court as long as you did.”
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