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Attacks on oil tankers in Gulf spark fears of return to 1980s 'Tanker Wars'
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Trump says Iran is a 'nation of terror' but does not call for strikes after tanker attack
Donald Trump called Iran "a nation of terror" on Friday but gave no indication the US plans to retaliate for the alleged Iranian attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The US military released a grainy video that it said proved Iran was behind Thursday’s attack and allegedly showed Iranian forces trying to remove an unexploded mine from the side of one tanker.  “They didn’t want the evidence left behind,” Mr Trump said. “They are a nation of terror and they’ve changed a lot since I became president.” Iran has denied responsibility.  Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, said on Friday night that responsibility for the attacks "almost certainly lies with Iran". He had earlier warned that the US were in danger of stumbling into an unwanted war.  “At the moment both sides in this dispute think the other side doesn’t want war. The risk you have is that then they doing something provocative that leads to catastrophic consequences that weren’t intended,” Mr Hunt said.  However, the Japanese owner of the oil tankers contradicted the US claims and said he believed the tanker was attacked by “a flying object” rather than a mine or a torpedo. Yukaka Katada, president of the operating company, did not say say whether he believed Iran was responsible.  The US blamed Iran for Thursday's attack Credit: AP Photo/ISNA Iranian military boats were on Friday night preventing two privately owned tug boats from towing away one of the tankers, a US official said. While tensions remained high in the Persian Gulf region, the US did not appear to be planning any immediate military response to the attack, which came just a month after four other oil vessels were sabotaged in the same area.  Speaking on Fox News, Mr Trump was repeatedly asked how the US was going to respond and replied merely: “We’ll see.”  He repeated his hope that Iran would agree to return to the negotiating table to thrash out a tougher version of the 2015 nuclear agreement, which Mr Trump withdrew the US from. “I’m ready when they are,” Mr Trump said.  Iran has repeatedly said it will not negotiate until the US lifts crippling sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy. “We will not negotiate with the United States,” said Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. “No free nation would ever accept negotiations under pressure.” Meanwhile, 23 crew members from the Front Altair, one of the oil tankers, remained in Iran at the southern port of Jask, where they were taken after being rescued by Revolutionary Guard forces. Iranian state media released video of the mainly Russian crew saying they were being treated well.  Video shows crewmembers of a tanker hit by suspicious blast in Sea of Oman who were saved by Iranian rescue teams and transferred to Jask port.SeaofOmanpic.twitter.com/XE2Nd5cynF— Press TV (@PressTV) June 13, 2019 The US Navy meanwhile took 21 crew members from the other tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, back to the ship so they could help tow it to port.    The video released by the US military appeared to show a small Iranian patrol boat pulling alongside the Kokuka Courageous and removing an unexploded limpet mine several hours after the attack. The US said the Iranians were trying to dispose of evidence of their involvement.  “It’s not a great video and you cant see much detail it could but it looks like what the US says it is,” said Richard Meade, the editor of Lloyd’s List, a shipping intelligence agency. “The working assumption is that it was Iran and this footage points in that direction.”  The US also claimed that Iranian forces appeared to be racing towards the tug that initially rescued the crew of the Kokuka Courageous in an effort to pick up the sailors themselves. However, the USS Bainbridge, an American warship, got there first and the sailors were taken aboard.  Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said the attack was carried out by what he called “the B Team” - John Bolton, the US national security advisor; Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister; and Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince - in order to disrupt Iranian diplomacy.  All three men have advocated a hawkish approach against Iran. “Unilateral US actions - including its economic terrorism on Iran - are solely responsible for insecurity and renewed tension in our region,” Mr Zarif said.  While Israel and Saudi Arabia are both archenemies of Iran, neither state has called for major military action in the wake of the oil tanker attacks. Mr Bolton was outspoken on the need to deter Iran last month but appears to be have reined in after Mr Trump grew frustrated with his rhetoric.
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Attacks on oil tankers in Gulf spark fears of return to 1980s 'Tanker Wars'
The spate of alleged Iranian attacks on oil ships in the Gulf of Oman has raised global fears of a return to the “Tanker Wars” of the 1980s, when oil tankers were regularly targeted and US warships fought cat-and-mouse battles with Iranian forces.  Shipping analysts said that this week’s attack on two oil tanker had sent tensions in the Gulf to their highest point since 1987, when Iraq and Iran began destroying each other’s oil infrastructure, and sent maritime insurance prices spiraling.  The Tanker Wars ended only after the US deployed its largest naval convoy since the Second World War to protect Kuwaiti oil vessels and after American forces engaged in direct combat with Iranian ships.     “We’ve had six tankers explode in that region in the last four weeks. The industry is about as close to a conflict footing as it has ever been been in the past,” said Richard Meade, the editor of Lloyd’s List, a shipping intelligence agency. “We haven't seen tankers being targeted or caught in the cross fire in this way since the late 1980s. The industry is understandably very nervous and this is being taken very seriously.” The US blamed Iran for Thursday's attack Credit: AP Photo/ISNA Meanwhile, US officials said Iranian forces had attempted to shoot down an American drone in the Gulf of Oman shortly before beginning their attack on two oil tankers on Thursday, according to CNN. If confirmed, the attempt would signal a willingness by Iran to directly confront the US in the Persian Gulf, rather than striking non-American targets in the hope of avoiding retaliation by US forces. The unmanned drone reportedly observed Iranian vessels in the vicinity of the two oil tankers but did not capture them actually carrying out the attack.  Another US drone was reportedly successfully shot down by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen last week. The rebels released photos of a wrecked aircraft but the US has not officially confirmed what happened. Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, repeated his threat on Saturday to breach the 2015 nuclear agreement by resuming enrichment of the kind of high-grade uranium which could be used in a nuclear weapon.  Mr Rouhani has said that high-grade enrichment will resume in July unless the European signatories to the nuclear deal find a way to circumvent US sanctions and bring relief to Iran’s faltering economy.  Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, threatened to breach the nuclear deal next month Credit: ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA-EFE/REX “Iran cannot stick to this agreement unilaterally," Mr Rouhani told Russian, Chinese and other Asian leaders at a conference in Tajikistan.  He did not mention the tanker incident but Iran has denied responsibility. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, and several other Conservative leadership candidates also condemned Jeremy Corbyn after the Labour leader questioned whether there was credible evidence Iran was responsible for this week’s attacks.    The US released a video which it said showed Iranian forces trying to hide evidence of attacking the tankers and the British government said that it was “almost certain” that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was responsible.  “Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government’s rhetoric will only increase the threat of war,” Mr Corbyn said.  Britain should act to ease tensions in the Gulf, not fuel a military escalation that began with US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement. Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government’s rhetoric will only increase the threat of war.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 14, 2019 Mr Hunt called the comments “pathetic and predictable”. “From Salisbury to the Middle East, why can he never bring himself to back British allies, British intelligence or British interests?” Mr Hunt said. Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, and Sajid Javid also criticised Mr Corbyn's comments. Mr Raab said the Labour leader was allowing "his anti-American prejudice to skew his moral compass and political judgment". Heiko Mass, the German foreign minister, also said the grainy video released by the US was “not enough” to prove Iran was behind the attack. The UN called for an independent investigation into what happened.   Khalid al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister, said there must a be a "swift and decisive" reponse to the threats against energy supplies caused by the attacks. The Tanker War began in 1981 but erupted into all-out conflict three years later when Saddam Hussein’s forces attacked Iranian oil tankers and Iran responded by targeting Kuwaiti tankers carrying Iraqi oil.    More than 450 ships were attacked during the eight years of fighting. Alarmed by the spiraling conflict, the US took Kuwaiti tankers under its own protection and deployed 30 warships to the Persian Gulf.  The conflict led to direct combat between Iran and the US, including Operation Praying Mantis, where US forces killed around 60 Iranian sailors in response to an American ship being damaged by a naval mine.  The US Navy accidentally shot down a civilian Iran Air flight during that period, killing all 290 people onboard.  Brett McGurk, a former US diplomat, said there was potentially “more risk and uncertainty today” than in 1988 because the Tanker War was confined to the Persian Gulf while current asymmetric struggle between the US was playing out in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.    It remains unclear what will happen to the 23 crew members of the Front Altair, one of the damaged tankers, who were picked up by Iranian forces and taken to the Iranian port of Jask. Eleven of the crew are Russian and they are expected to be eventually repatriated.   US officials said Iranian speed boats were preventing tugs from reaching the stranded Front Altair and towing it back to port. The Kokuka Courageous, other tanker, was expected to be returned to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.
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