Saudi Arabia backs US charge Iran behind Gulf of Oman tanker attacks

The Norwegian owned Front Altair tanker was attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2019

Saudi Arabia backs US charge Iran behind Gulf of Oman tanker attacks

  • Iran’s foreign ministry dismisses accusation as ‘baseless’
  • Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs: twin attacks marked a ‘dangerous escalation’

LONDON: Saudi Arabia said it agrees with the US blaming Iran for attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman as the Americans produced a video on Thursday showing the removal of a mine from the side of one of the ships by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC).

US Central Command spokesman Bill Urban released a video of what the US military said was an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approaching the ship Kokuka Courageous “and was observed and recorded removing (an) unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.”

The attacks on the ships are part of a “campaign” of “escalating tension” by Iran and a threat to international peace and security, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

“It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today,” Pompeo said. “This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

“We have no reason to disagree with the secretary of state. We agree with him,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told CNN. “Iran has a history of doing this.”

The United Arab Emirates said Friday that the twin attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman just weeks after four ships were damaged off the UAE coast marked a “dangerous escalation.”
“The attack against the tankers in the Gulf of Oman is a worrying development and a dangerous escalation,” Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, tweeted after Thursday’s blasts.

 

UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt on Friday also said that there is no reason not to believe US assessment that Iran was behind tanker incident.

“We are going to make our own independent assessment, we have our processes to do that, (but) we have no reason not to believe the American assessment and our instinct is to believe it because they are our closest ally,” Hunt told BBC radio on Friday, echoing comments he made late on Thursday.

Meanwhile, China on Friday called for “dialogue” after the United States accused Iran of being behind attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Nobody wants war in the Gulf of Oman, the country’s foreign ministry said.

“We hope that all the relevant sides can properly resolve their differences and resolve the conflict through dialogue and consultations,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing.

“This conforms with the interests of regional countries, and also conforms with the interests of the international community,” he added.

Also on Thursday, senior US officials said they do not believe the threat from Iran is over.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, the officials said the US photographed an unexploded mine on the side of one of the tankers, which led to the assessment that Iran was responsible for the attack. The photograph is expected to be made public later Thursday.

The officials say the US will reevaluate its presence in the region. They advise that a program to provide military escorts of merchant ships under consideration.

Iran’s foreign ministry on Friday dismissed the US accusation that it was behind the attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman as “baseless.”
Responding to the “baseless accusations” of Pompeo, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi insisted that Iran had come to “help” the ships in distress and “saved” their crew as quick as possible, according to a statement published on his Telegram channel.

The crew of a Japanese-owned tanker hit in an apparent attack in the Gulf of Oman saw a “flying object” before a second blast on board, the operator’s head said Friday. They also saw Iranian naval vessel nearby, he added.
“The crew members are saying that they were hit by a flying object. They saw it with their own eyes,” Yutaka Katada, head of Kokuka Sangyo shipping company, told reporters.

 

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, said the leadership in Tehran may be fracturing under economic pressure from the US, with supreme leader Ali Khamenei losing control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “Iran is continuing to lash out because of its inability to deal with the sanctions,” he said.

The Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous were hit by explosions shortly after passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the narrow passage at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil supply passes.

In July 2018, two Saudi Arabian oil tankers were attacked in the Bab Al-Mandeb strait at the southern entrance to the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen. The Arab military coalition supporting the Yemeni government blamed the Iran-backed Houthi militia for that attack.

Thursday’s attacks in the Gulf of Oman are a “major escalation,” coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said. “From my perspective ... we can connect it to the Houthi attacks at Bab Al-Mandeb.”

Donald Trump, who has made economic and military pressure against Iran a cornerstone of his foreign policy, was being briefed Thursday about the tanker attack.

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A US defense official told CBS News “it was “highly likely Iran caused these attacks.”

The official said American authorities are expected to recover sufficient debris from the attacks to  trace their source and that any US retaliation would depend on the evidence and on other Gulf countries.

The Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the UN Security Council: “Some parties in the region are trying to instigate fires in the region and we must be aware of that.”

His comments will be read as reference to Iran, which Arab countries accuse of attempting to destabilize the region, primarily though its proxy forces in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Aboul Gheit called on the council to act against those responsible for the attacks to maintain security in the Gulf.

Pressure has been mounting on Tehran from crippling economic sanctions, which have  greatly reduced its oil exports, and an increased US military presence in the region.

The attacks were the second in a month near the Strait of Hormuz, a major strategic waterway for world oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for last month’s attacks using limpet mines on four tankers moored off the coast of the UAE. Thursday’s attacks against tankers under steam, moving cargo from Arabian Gulf ports in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to international customers, would be an escalation.

Observers believe the attacks on shipping could be Iran attempting to reassert its position.

“We see this as Iran trying to get negotiating leverage it doesn’t have,” Bob McNally, president of the US consultancy Rapidan Energy Group, told Reuters. “I don’t think it tips us over into direct military confrontation. It is still deniable and denied. This is still going to be like the attack last month – everyone is denying it. It’s a blunt message.”

Other international responses offered strong condemnation but urged caution on attributing blame.

Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah described the attacks as a threat to international peace and security.

 

“This is the most recent event in a series of acts of sabotage that are threatening the security of maritime corridors as well as threatening energy security of the world,” he said.

Acting US Ambassador to the UN Jonathan Cohen said attacks on commercial shipping were “unacceptable” and “raise very serious concerns.”

‘The US government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” he told the UN Security Council.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned at the meeting that the world cannot afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”

“I strongly condemn any attack against civilian vessels. Facts must be established and responsibilities clarified,” he said.

Qatar condemned the attacks "regardless of who was behind them," the state news agency QNA reported. Qatar also called on all parties to show restraint and stop escalation, while calling for an international investigation into the attacks. 


Sudanese celebrate transition to civilian rule

Updated 42 min 40 sec ago

Sudanese celebrate transition to civilian rule

  • Members of the Transitional Military Council and protest leaders signed the documents that will govern the 39-month transition
  • Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir is leading Saudi Arabia’s delegation at the ceremony

KHARTOUM: Sudan's main opposition coalition and the ruling military council on Saturday signed a final agreement for a transitional government.
The agreement was signed in the presence of regional and international dignitaries including Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. 
During a ceremony that was held at a hall by the Nile in the capital Khartoum, members of the Transitional Military Council and protest leaders signed the documents that will govern the 39-month transition.
“Today, the country begins its historic transition to democracy,” read the front page of the Tayar newspaper, a headline echoed by most other dailies.
But the road to democracy remains fraught with obstacles, even if the mood was celebratory as foreign dignitaries as well as thousands of citizens from all over Sudan converged for the occasion.
The deal reached on August 4 — the Constitutional Declaration — brought an end to nearly eight months of upheaval that saw masses mobilize against president Omar Al-Bashir, who was ousted in April after 30 years in power.
The agreement brokered by the African Union and Ethiopia was welcomed with relief by both sides — protesters celebrated what they see as the victory of their “revolution,” while the generals took credit for averting civil war.
Hundreds of people boarded a train from the town of Atbara — the birthplace of the protests back in December — on Friday night, dancing and singing on their way to the celebrations in Khartoum, videos shared on social media showed.
“Civilian rule, civilian rule,” they chanted, promising to avenge the estimated 250 allegedly killed by security forces during the protests.

The Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir led Saudi Arabia’s delegation at the ceremony in Khartoum, Saudi Press Agency reported.

Al-Jubeir is being accompanied by the Saudi Minister of State for African affairs Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan and the Saudi ambassador to Sudan Ali bin Hassan Jafar.

Saudi Arabia has and will continue to support everything that guarantees Sudan’s security and stability, Al-Jubeir said at the ceremony.

“We look forward to the Sudanese fortifying the partnership agreement and combatting foreign interference.”

Al-Jubeir also said that Saudi Arabia actively participated in supporting efforts to reach the agreement in Sudan.

After Saturday’s signing, Sudan kicks off a process that includes important first steps.
The composition of the civilian-majority transition ruling council is to be announced on Sunday.
On Thursday, former senior UN official Abdalla Hamdok, a veteran economist, was designated as transitional prime minister.
He is expected to focus on attempting to stabilize Sudan’s economy, which went into a tailspin when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011 and was the trigger that sparked the initial protests.
At Khartoum’s central market early Saturday, shoppers and stallholders interviewed by AFP all said they hoped a civilian government would help them put food on the table.
“Everybody is happy now,” said Ali Yusef, a 19-year-old university student who works in the market to get by.
“We were under the control of the military for 30 years but today we are leaving this behind us and moving toward civilian rule,” he said, sitting next to tomatoes piled directly on the ground.
“All these vegetables around are very expensive but now I’m sure they will become cheaper.”
While it remains to be seen what changes the transition can bring to people’s daily lives, residents old and young were eager to exercise a newfound freedom of expression.
“I’m 72 and for 30 years under Bashir, I had nothing to feel good about. Now, thanks to God, I am starting to breathe,” said Ali Issa Abdel Momen, sitting in front of his modest selection of vegetables at the market.
But many Sudanese are already questioning the ability of the transitional institutions to rein in the military elite’s powers during the three-year period leading to planned elections.
The country of 40 million people will be ruled by an 11-member sovereign council and a government, which will — the deal makes clear — be dominated by civilians.
However, the interior and defense ministers are to be chosen by military members of the council.
Observers have warned that the transitional government will have little leverage to counter any attempt by the military to roll back the uprising’s achievements and seize back power.
Saturday’s official ceremony is to be attended by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and several other regional leaders.
Security forces deployed across the city for the biggest international event to be held in a long time in Sudan, which had become something of a pariah country under Bashir’s rule.
One of the most immediate diplomatic consequences of the compromise reached this month could be the lifting of a suspension slapped on Sudan by the African Union in June.
Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide in the Darfur region, had been slated to appear in court Saturday on corruption charges.
But his trial has been postponed to an as yet undetermined date.