Arab League chief tells Iranians to 'be careful'

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for an independent investigation into the suspected attacks on two tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, saying it’s important to know the truth about what happened.

15 June 2019 | 10:13

Source: Associated Press

  • Source: Associated Press
  • Last update: 15 June 2019 | 10:13

An Iranian navy boat sprays water to extinguish a fire on an oil tanker in the sea of Oman. (AP Photo).

DUBAI: The head of the Arab League is calling on the Iranians to “be careful and reverse course.”

Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit noted after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday that there are conflicting reports about how Thursday’s tanker incidents occurred.

“We believe that responsibilities need to be clearly defined,” he said. “The facts will be revealed, I am sure, it’s only a matter of time.”

The U.S. said the Iranians are responsible for the attacks near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians said they were not involved.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the attacks “build on a pattern of destabilizing Iranian behavior and pose a serious danger to the region.” He said Britain “remains in close coordination with international partners to find diplomatic solutions to de-escalate tensions.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for an independent investigation into the suspected attacks on two tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, saying it’s important to know the truth about what happened.

The U.N. chief reiterated to reporters after meeting Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit at U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday that “we believe it is very important to avoid, at all costs, a major confrontation in the Gulf.”

Guterres said U.N. officials have been “talking to everybody” but “at the present moment, we don’t see a mechanism of dialogue possible to be in place.”

Aboul Gheit said he is very worried at recent developments in the Gulf, and said: “We believe that the truth needs to be clearly established in relation to these attacks.”

Aboul Gheit said: “My call to my Iranian — and I call them Iranian brothers: Be careful and reverse course because you’re pushing everybody towards a confrontation that no one would be safe if it happens.”

In its turn, the British government said it agrees with a U.S. conclusion that Iran attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that its own assessment concluded “it is almost certain that a branch of the Iranian military,” the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, attacked the tankers. It said it also believed Iran was behind an attack last month on four tankers near the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has condemned the suspected attack on a Japanese-operated tanker near the Strait of Hormuz this week as a threat to safe maritime navigation.

Abe, speaking to reporters Friday, said: “Japan adamantly condemns the act that threatened a Japanese ship, no matter who attacked.”

The tanker, Kokuka Courageous, was attacked by what its crewmembers described as “flying objects” near the Strait of Hormuz, carrying methanol to Singapore and Thailand. All 21 Filipino sailors were safely evacuated.

Abe urged “all related countries” to avoid an accidental confrontation and refrain from any action that may escalate tensions. He pledged to help de-escalate tensions in the region.

Abe made the remarks after telephone calls with U.S. President Donald Trump, briefing him on his Iran visit this week, without elaborating. He pledged to keep cooperating with Trump.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has warned against rushing to assign blame for attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman and accused the U.S. of stoking tensions in the region with its accusations against Iran.

The ministry said in Friday’s statement that the U.S.’s “Iranophobic” stance has “artificially” fueled tensions. It urged all parties involved to show restraint.

The Russian statement came after President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the attacks and called it “a nation of terror.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Moscow strongly condemns the attacks in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, but warned against blaming anyone until the completion of a “thorough and unbiased international probe.”

It thanked Iran for helping rescue 11 Russian nationals who were part of one of the tankers’ crew.

Osuga , in a statement Friday, didn’t identify a suspected attacker and pledged to continue gathering information and secure the safety of maritime navigation. He said: “Japan firmly condemns such attacks which threaten the safety of ships.”

Osuga said safety in the Strait of Hormuz is crucial to Japan’s energy security as well as to the peace and prosperity of the international community, including Japan.

The Norwegian owner of an oil tanker that caught fire after a suspected attack in the Gulf of Oman said the blaze has been extinguished.

Frontline said the fire was put out on the Front Altair and did not cause any pollution.

The company added that its 23 crew members are still In Iran at Bandar Abbas, though they’ll be repatriated soon.

Frontline CEO Robert Hvide Macleod separately said the company still doesn’t know the cause of the explosion and the fire “but we can exclude that a fault with the ship that has caused this.”

President Donald Trump is calling Iran “a nation of terror,” saying Iran’s responsibility for attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman was “exposed” by the United States.

Calling into “Fox & Friends” on Friday, Trump said of the Thursday attacks, “Iran did do it.” He cited video purporting to show an Iranian boat removing what the U.S. says is an unexploded mine from one of the vessels.

Iran has denied any role in the attacks.

Trump cites no new potential U.S. responses, saying the U.S. has been “very tough on sanctions.” He said, “They’ve been told in very strong terms we want to get them back to the table.”

Trump is warning Iran not to close off the strategic Strait of Hormuz, saying if it is closed it won’t be closed for long.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has called for closer cooperation between Tehran and Moscow amid rising regional tensions.

Speaking Friday during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a summit of a regional security grouping in Kyrgyzstan that includes Russia, China and India among others, Rouhani said “the situation in the region requires stronger interaction between our nations.”

The Iranian leader added that “external pressure and foreign sanctions” have made such cooperation “even more acute.”

Putin hailed economic and security ties between Russia and Iran, noting their joint action in Syria.

The Dutch company, Boskalis, said it has been appointed to salvage the two tankers in the suspected attacks in the Gulf of Oman, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Royal Boskalis Westminster said on Friday that the insurers of the two tankers, the Front Altair and the Kokuka Courageous, have appointed its subsidiary SMIT Salvage to salvage both vessels and their cargoes.

Boskalis said the situation of the Front Altair, which was carrying a petroleum product known as naptha, “is still worrisome.” 

Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin on Friday that a “spiral of escalation” must be avoided.

She said that “what’s important now is to continue investigating the background of the incidents in depth,” and added that Germany “is in contact with all our partners” on the matter.

The U.S. military has released a video it says shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers. Iran denies being involved.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has assailed the Trump administration, accusing it of radicalizing the situation in the Mideast and pursuing an aggressive policy against his country.

Rouhani said the U.S. is “using all opportunities for radicalizing the situation, which undermines the stability not only in our region but in the whole world.”

He added that America has been “carrying out an aggressive policy and posing a serious threat to regional stability.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday that countries should “avoid further escalation of tensions.”

Geng said that a “war in the Gulf region of the Middle East is something that no one wants to see.”

China is the world’s largest buyer of Iranian oil and has maintained its support for the Iran nuclear deal.

Geng said that “China will continue to protect its energy security” and oppose unilateral sanctions.

Saudi Arabia said its military intercepted five drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeting the kingdom.

Military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said early Friday that the drones targeted Abha regional airport and Khamis Mushait.

Al-Maliki in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency said that the drone attack showed the Houthis were targeting civilian infrastructure in the kingdom.

U.N. experts, the West and Gulf Arab nations said Iran arms the Houthis with weapons. Tehran denied that.

The kingdom says a similar attack Wednesday on the Abha airport wounded 26 people.

It is just the latest in a wave of rebel drone and missile attacks targeting the kingdom, which has been mired in a yearslong war in Yemen that has killed an estimated 60,000 people and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine.

The development comes as tensions are rising in the Persian Gulf region.

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