LONDON/TEHRAN — Iran and its regional arch rival Saudi Arabia traded accusations on Sunday over who carried out the recent attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said he suspected the United States was behind Thursday’s attacks, according to state news agency IRNA.
But Washington and London insisted they had evidence to back their claims that Tehran was responsible for the attacks.
“These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping, on the freedom of navigation, with a clear intent to deny transit through the strait,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News.
“There’s no doubt. The intelligence community has lots of data, lots of evidence; the world will come to see much of it,” Pompeo said.
He said the U.S. does not want war with Iran but hopes the fact that it is “considering a full range of options” will persuade Iranian leaders to negotiate.
Larijani rejected Washington’s accusation that Iran was to blame for explosions on the tankers, saying the United States appeared to have resorted to staging attacks after its sanctions on Iran had failed.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also blamed Iran for the attacks.
Iran deliberately attacked the ships, including the Japanese tanker the Kokuka Courageous, which was hit during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Tehran, Salman told the Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.
He urged the international community to take a “decisive stand,” the pan-Arab publication reported.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the long-term solution to regional tension depended upon Iran halting its “destabilizing activities.”
Hunt told the BBC there was a “great risk” of the recent tension escalating into armed conflict. “We are urging all sides to de-escalate,” he said.
“Let’s see Iran stop its destabilizing activities in Lebanon through Hezbollah; in Yemen, where they are firing missiles into Saudi Arabia; on the Gulf, as we have seen,” Hunt said. “That is the long-term solution.”
He said Britain was “almost certain” Iran was behind Thursday’s attacks after conducting its own intelligence assessment.
“We have got videos of what happened. … We don’t believe anyone else could have done this,” Hunt added.
Junior defense minister Tobias Ellwood told Sky News that Iran has “a proxy influence, a negative influence, in Syria, in Bahrain … and in other countries as well, and that is causing extra tensions in the Middle East itself.”
“I don’t think Iran should be under any doubt that we will be determined to protect our assets and our interests in the region,” Ellwood said.
Earlier Sunday, Britain’s ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, tweeted that he had requested an urgent meeting with the Iranian Foreign Ministry over the attacks, rather than being summoned as Iranian state media reported.
IRNA said Tehran called in Macaire on Saturday to complain that an earlier “anti-Iranian” statement by Hunt was “unacceptable.”
Washington and its allies also blamed Iran for the attempted sabotage of four vessels in May off the United Arab Emirates, including two Saudi oil tankers.