U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doubled down Sunday on the claim that Iran was responsible for attacks on two tankers traveling in the Strait of Hormuz, despite furnishing no new evidence beyond a video distributed last week by the Pentagon.
“There’s no doubt,” Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday. “The intelligence community has lots of data, lots of evidence. The world will come to see much of it, but the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world.”
Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom have backed up the U.S. claim, which Iran has strenuously denied.
The Norwegian-owned Front Altair caught fire Thursday after what the U.S. described as an attack with mines, The Associated Press reports. Sailors on a passing ship rescued the crew as black smoke billowed off the tanker. The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous was also struck, NPR’s Tom Bowman reported, and early assessments suggested the ship was hit by an external explosion.
The Pentagon released a grainy video it says shows an Iranian crew removing an unexploded mine from the hull of one of the tankers.
Saudi Arabia has joined the United States in blaming Tehran.
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known by his initials MBS, said his country will not hesitate to deal with threats to the kingdom’s interest, NPR’s Deborah Amos reports.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said it is “pretty obvious” Iran is to blame, adding, “we actually have video evidence that shows what the Iranians have been doing.”
Iran has dismissed the accusation. NPR’s Peter Kenyon reports Tehran summoned the U.K. ambassador to protest London’s stance on the tanker attacks.
Other Europeans have been skeptical, including Germany’s Foreign Secretary Heiko Maas.
The U.S. military also accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps of trying to shoot down an American drone. The U.S. claims the drone had been observing one of the two tankers that had been attacked when Iran fired a surface to air missile but missed the drone, NPR’s Kenyon reports.
Six tankers have been attacked in the Gulf in recent weeks.
The attacks come as Iran faces renewed U.S. economic pressure. President Trump last year withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama signed in 2015 that lifted sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program. Since then, the Trump administration has reimposed sanctions and and refused to renew waivers allowing other countries to import Iranian oil without incurring U.S. sanctions, NPR’s Bill Chappell has reported.
Associate political scientist Ariane Tabatabai at RAND Corporation told NPR’s Scott Simon that if Iran is to blame, it could be retaliating against the U.S. measures.
“This is one way for the Iranians to showcase that, if they’re going to be paying the costs of sanctions and political isolation, that they can actually begin to impose similar costs on the United States,” she said.
Senior military figures have lent their credence to the Pentagon video.
Speaking to Morning Edition’s Rachel Martin, the former commander of USCENTCOM, Admiral William J. Fallon, said the video is “very convincing to me…this video pretty much nails it.”
Pompeo on Sunday said, “we don’t want war,” but he also said the U.S. would guarantee freedom of navigation on the Strait of Hormuz, a major thoroughfare for the global oil trade.
“This is an international challenge,” Pompeo said on Fox. “This is important to the entire globe. The United States is going to make sure that we take all the actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, that achieve that outcome.”
He also defended the decision to make an emergency U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia, bypassing Congressional approval.
“These past 40 days demonstrate the malign activity that puts Saudis at risk,” Pompeo said. “Saudi Arabia has the right to defend itself. The United States wants to support our important defense partner in the region, and I think moving forward, these arms sales made enormous sense and we’re going to continue to push forward with them.”
NPR’s David Welna reports that both Republicans and Democrats are trying to undo the sale. Lawmakers say they are motivated by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which lawmakers have concluded was directed from the top echelons of Riyadh’s leadership. Legislators also oppose providing military support to the Saudi campaign in Yemen, which has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe.
“I’m usually on the other side of this issue,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “I’ve been very supportive of arms sales to our partners throughout the world, including Saudi Arabia. But MBS behavior is a game changer.”
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