Russia has 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 last week, have ratcheted up already high tensions between Tehran and Washington, prompting fears of a regional conflagration and sending oil prices soaring.
The Russian appeal on Sunday came as Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom sided with Washington’s assessment that Iran was responsible for Thursday’s incidents, which left one tanker ablaze and both adrift in the Gulf.
Britain’s stance, meanwhile, drew a diplomatic protest from Tehran, which vehemently denies the US claims.
Hitting back at Washington, Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, suggested the US may have staged the tanker attacks because of “the failure of its harsh sanctions” on Tehran, according to the official IRNA news agency.
The US has reimposed and tightened punishing sanctions on Iran in the year since it exited an international accord that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme. 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.
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 after Larijani’s remarks, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was “unmistakable” that Iran was responsible for the suspected attacks. But Washington did not seek war with Tehran, he said.
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 one of the damaged tankers hours after the suspected attacks.
“The intelligence community has lots of data, lots of evidence. The world will come to see much of it,” said Pompeo.
“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 UK also backed the US assessment.
Earlier on Sunday, 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”.
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 in the Gulf of Oman “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 as “unacceptable”. Mahmoud Barimani, the managing director of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 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”.
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, a 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.
Moscow “severely” condemned the attacks, he said, warning against drawing “hasty conclusions”.
The United Nations, Germany, Qatar and others have called for an independent investigation to establish what happened.
Meanwhile, the two damaged tankers have arrived safely at locations off the UAE coast.
The Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous had “arrived safely at the designated anchorage”, Singapore-based BSM Ship Management that manages the vessel’s 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, the vessel’s owners said in a statement.
“First inspections are under way and no hot spots have been identified following the fire,” while all crew members were in Dubai, the statement added.
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.