'A nation of terror': Trump accuses Iran of involvement in tanker attacks
Tehran rebuffs 'alarming' accusation, EU calls for maximum restraint
U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed the assessment of his top advisers and publicly accused Iran of responsibility for recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Trump said Friday that Iran's culpability was "exposed" by the United States. While calling into Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends, he said of the Thursday attacks, "Iran did do it."
"They are a nation of terror, and they've changed a lot since I was president," Trump said.
Iran rebuffed blame for the attacks and affirmed its responsibility for security in the nearby Strait of Hormuz, where almost a fifth of the world's oil passes, state radio reported Friday.
"Obviously, accusing Iran for such a suspicious and unfortunate incident is the simplest and the most convenient way for [U.S. Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and other U.S. officials. These accusations are alarming," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by Iran's state radio.
"We are responsible for ensuring the security of the strait, and we have rescued the crew of those attacked tankers in the shortest possible time."
Trump did not preview any potential U.S. response to the attack, saying the U.S. has been "very tough on sanctions." He added: "They've been told in very strong terms we want to get them back to the table."
It was not immediately clear what caused the explosions that forced the crews to abandon ship and leave both the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous adrift in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran.
The U.S. military released a video late Thursday it said showed Iran's Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) removing an unexploded mine from the side of the Japanese-owned oil tanker.
Watch the video released by the U.S. military:
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected the U.S. accusations as part of "sabotage diplomacy."
The blasts, south of the Strait of Hormuz, followed last month's attacks on vessels off the Fujairah emirate, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs.
About 17.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil pass through the strait. Consumption was about 100 million bpd in 2017, data from analytics firm Vortexa showed.
Brent crude futures rose 0.6 per cent to $61.69 US per barrel in Asian trade on Friday, having gained 2.2 per cent the previous day.
One source said the blast on the Front Altair may have been caused by a magnetic mine. The firm that chartered the Kokuka Courageous tanker said it was hit by a suspected torpedo, but a person with knowledge of the matter said that was not the case.
'The region doesn't need further escalation'
The European Union called on Friday for maximum restraint amid the mounting tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
"We are gathering more information, and we are assessing the situation," a spokesperson for the EU's foreign service told reporters. "We have said repeatedly that the region doesn't need further escalation, it doesn't need destabilization, it doesn't need further tension, and therefore we call for maximum restraint and to avoid provocations."
UN Secretary General António Guterres called for an independent investigation to establish the facts and who was responsible for attacks on the oil tankers.
"It's very important to know the truth, and it's very important that responsibilities are clarified," he told reporters Friday alongside Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit after the pair met. "Obviously that can only be done if there is an independent entity that verifies those facts."
IRGC commanders have said Iran would block all exports through the strait if countries heed U.S. calls to stop buying its oil. In April, Washington designated the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization.
The U.S. military's Central Command also released photographs showing the apparent mine, which attaches to the side of a ship magnetically, before it was removed later in the day.
Comprising an estimated 125,000-strong military with navy, army and air units, the revolutionary guard control Iran's missile programs. The guards' overseas Quds forces have fought Iran's proxy wars in the region for decades from Yemen to Syria.
Relations between Tehran and Washington took a turn for the worse last year, when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, and reimposed sanctions that were lifted under the deal in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear work.
Without mentioning the attacks, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told leaders of a China-led security bloc in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek that U.S. withdrawal from the deal posed a serious threat to stability in the Middle East.
Tensions have spiked further since Trump acted last month to force Iran's oil customers to slash their imports to zero or face draconian U.S. financial sanctions.
Iran's oil exports, its economic lifeblood, have dropped to about 400,000 bpd in May from 2.5 million bpd in April last year.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told Rouhani on Friday that Beijing, a signatory of the nuclear pact, will promote steady development of ties with Iran no matter how the situation changes, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
With files from The Associated Press