The Latest: Arab League chief tells Iranians to ‘be careful’
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on Mideast developments amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region (all times local):
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. says the Iranians are responsible for the attacks near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians say they were not involved.
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.”
The British government says it agrees with a U.S. conclusion that Iran attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
The Foreign Office says 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.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the attacks “build on a pattern of destabilizing Iranian behaviour 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.”
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, says: “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.
Japanese Foreign Ministry press secretary Takeshi Osuga has condemned Thursday’s attacks on a Japanese-operated tanker near the Strait of Hormuz, calling it a threat to Japan’s peace and prosperity.
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 says: “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.
A Japanese-operated tanker was targeted in a suspected attack Thursday near the Strait of Hormuz. The tanker company said some crewmembers saw “flying objects,” possibly bullets, damage the tanker, not mines. All 21 Filipino sailors on the tanker were rescued.
The Norwegian owner of an oil tanker that caught fire after a suspected attack in the Gulf of Oman says the blaze has been extinguished.
Frontline says 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 says 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 says of the Thursday attacks, “Iran did do it.” He cites 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 says, “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.
Regional tensions escalated over suspected attacks Thursday on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran has rejected the U.S. accusations.
The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet says the 21 sailors it hosted overnight from one of the oil tankers hit in an apparent attack in the Gulf of Oman have returned to their vessel.
Cmdr. Joshua Frey said on Friday that the sailors were back on the Kokuka Courageous to assist in it being towed.
Frey says the USS Bainbridge remains nearby and is in close contact with the vessel.
The Dutch company Boskalis says 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 says the situation of the Front Altair, which was carrying a petroleum product known as naptha, “is still worrisome.” It does not elaborate, but adds that the crew left the ship following the suspected attack on Thursday and the fire on board has been extinguished.
The company says that the Kokuka Courageous, carrying the chemical compound methanol, is in a stable condition and being towed to a port in the Gulf region.
The German government is calling for an investigation into the “extraordinarily worrying” suspected attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
It also says it has no information on who carried them out and isn’t saying who it believes was responsible.
Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin on Friday that a “spiral of escalation” must be avoided.
She says 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 spoke at a regional summit in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on Friday, a day after the suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz that the U.S. has blamed on Iran.
Rouhani made no mention of the tankers but lashed out at Washington for walking out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and re-imposing sanctions on Tehran.
Rouhani says 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.”
China is urging all parties to exercise restraint after the suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday that countries should “avoid further escalation of tensions.”
Iran has rejected a U.S. accusation against Tehran over Thursday’s suspected attacks, which hit one Norwegian-owned ship and one Japanese-owned ship off the coast of Iran. Each vessel was loaded with petroleum products, and one was set ablaze.
Geng says 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.
Japan’s defense minister says he has no intention of sending Japanese troops to respond to attacks on a Japanese-operated oil tanker in the Middle East.
Takeshi Iwaya told reporters at a Friday news conference that the situation is not considered an imminent threat to Japan.
His remarks came after a Japanese-operated tanker headed to Singapore was attacked on Thursday while traveling near the Strait of Hormuz, just as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up his high-stakes visit in Tehran to help de-escalate regional tension.
All 21 Filipino crewmembers pf the vessel were rescued and were now on a U.S. warship.
Iwaya says Japan doesn’t think the so-called “Self-Defense Force has a necessarily role to play at this point and we don’t plan to send them to the Strait of Hormuz region in response to the attacks.”
The Japanese ship operator says sailors on board the Kokuka Courageous, one of the vessels attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, saw “flying objects” just before the attack, suggesting the tanker wasn’t damaged by mines.
That account contradicts what the U.S. military has said as it released a video it says shows Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two ships in the suspected attack.
The Japanese tanker carrying petroleum products to Singapore and Thailand was attacked twice while traveling near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, damaging the tanker and forcing all 21 crewmembers to evacuate.
Company president Yutaka Katada said Friday he believes the flying objects seen by the sailors could be bullets, and denied possibility of mines or torpedoes because the damages were above the ship’s waterline. He called reports of mine attack “false.”
Katada said the crew members also spotted an Iranian naval ship nearby, but did not specify whether that was before or after the attacks. The tanker survived the first attack that hit near the engine room, followed by another causing damage to the star-board side toward the back.
Iran rejects a U.S. accusation against Tehran over suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in an early Friday morning tweet called the accusations part of a plot by hawkish politicians in the U.S. and the region.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday blamed Iran for the attacks and the U.S. military released images it said showed Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the ships.
Zarif tweeted that the United States “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran-w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence.”
He said the United States was trying to cover up economic terrorism, referring to sanctions the U.S. re-imposed on Iran.
Saudi Arabia says 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 say Iran arms the Houthis with weapons. Tehran denies 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.
The U.S. military’s Central Command has released a video is says shows Iranian forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the two ships suspected to have been attacked near the Strait of Hormuz.
It released the black-and-white footage early Friday morning.
Capt. Bill Urban, a Central Command spokesman, said a Revolutionary Guard patrol ship removed the limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous.
Iran has denied involvement in Thursday’s suspected attacks amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S.
Urban said in a statement the attacks “are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.”
He added: “The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.”