US Vows To Protect Shipping in Persian Gulf

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June 16, 2019

Mike Pompeo speaks on Thursday, June 13, regarding the attacks in the Strait of Hormuz. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

By Mark Niquette and Shawn Donnan (Bloomberg) There’s “no doubt” Iran was responsible for attacks on two oil tankers leaving the Persian Gulf last week, and the U.S. will guarantee safe commercial navigation going forward with its partners, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said.

“The United States is going make sure that we take all the actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, that achieve that outcome,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday,” one of two scheduled appearances on the political talk shows.

Pompeo spoke days after he and President Donald Trump accused Iran of being behind attacks that crippled the tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, which abuts Iran and is a strategic choke point for crude oil coming out of the Persian Gulf.

Asked how certain the U.S. is about Iran’s responsibility, Pompeo said, “it’s unmistakable what happened here” and there’s “high confidence” Iran was behind other attacks throughout the world during the past 40 days as well.

The U.S. has released video of what it says was an Iranian boat approaching one of the tankers at night to remove an unexploded limpet mine and other evidence that it says point to Iran’s responsibility for the attacks.

“Iran did do it and you know they did it,” Trump said Friday during a phone interview with Fox News.

‘Economic Terrorism’

Iran has denied any wrongdoing. The country’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, on Friday suggested in a series of tweets that Iran’s enemies may have been behind the attacks, accusing the Trump administration of “economic terrorism’’ and blaming it for the “renewed tension in our region.”

There’s no question Iran was behind the attacks, and it was a “Class A screw-up,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” But the problem is the U.S. is struggling to persuade its allies to join in a response, he said.

“It shows just how isolated the United States has become,’’ Schiff said.

Pompeo said on CBS he is making calls to allies and “the world needs to unite against this threat.’’ He suggested that Iran is attacking international waterways to “drive up the price of crude oil around the world so that the world will cry uncle.”

The incidents highlight the potential risks of the Trump administration’s aggressive approach toward Iran. They’ve raised fears that months of building tensions over Trump’s decision to abandon a multilateral nuclear deal and restore U.S. sanctions might trigger a military conflict between the U.S. and Iran.

Retaliatory Strike

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas advocated an attack, saying on CBS that “these unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike.’’ Schiff noted that Trump has said he doesn’t want war with Iran, but that his advisers “seem to be taking actions to undercut that ambition to stay out of warfare.’’

Schiff said Trump’s pressure campaign on Iran after withdrawing from the nuclear accord was “dangerously naïve” and that the attacks on shipping were “eminently foreseeable.”

Pompeo blamed Iran for escalating the tensions. He declined to discuss what options the administration is considering in response, but said Trump has been clear that the Islamic Republic will not acquire a nuclear weapon.

Arms Sales

On other matters, the secretary of state also said on Fox that Trump’s decision to push ahead with $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Mideast nations, defying congressional opposition, “made enormous sense.”

Asked about Trump’s comments suggesting the U.S. would not spy on North Korea, Pompeo said the U.S. is “taking all the actions that it needs to take to make sure we understand the risks and the threats that are posed by North Korea.”

Pompeo said he also expects Trump will talk about human rights and Hong Kong if he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 leaders’ meeting June 28-29 in Osaka, Japan. Almost 2 million protesters marched through Hong Kong Sunday a day, according to organizers, after leader Carrie Lam suspended — but didn’t withdraw — a controversial extradition bill.

— With assistance by Kevin Varley

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