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U.S. navy says mine fragments suggest Iran behind gulf tanker attack

June 20/ 11:25

Fujairah. The United States sought on Wednesday to bolster its case for isolating Iran over its nuclear and regional activities by displaying limpet mine fragments it said came from an oil tanker damaged in an attack last week and saying the ordnance looked Iranian in origin.

Separately, a senior U.S. official said U.S. intelligence had confirmed that Iranian vessels had approached the damaged tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, as well as a second one, the Front Altair, prior to explosions that damaged their hulls last week.

Iran has denied involvement in explosive strikes on those two tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week and on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on May 12, both near the Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies.

But the incidents have fueled tensions that flared with the U.S. pullout last year from world powers’ 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, followed by fresh U.S. sanctions to stifle Tehran’s vital oil trade, and a retaliatory Iranian threat this week to breach limits on its nuclear activities imposed by the deal.

Responding to Tehran’s move, Washington on Monday said it would deploy about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East on top of a 1,500-troop increase announced following the May tanker attacks. The Pentagon said the new deployment will include Patriot missiles as well as manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft.

France and Germany said on Wednesday they would crank up efforts to halt any spiral towards conflict with Iran, but said time was running out and the risk of war could not be ruled out.

Iran’s signal of preparedness to stockpile enriched uranium beyond the deal’s limit, and refine uranium to a fissile purity higher than deemed necessary for civilian uses, prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to warn on Tuesday he was ready to take military action to stop Tehran developing a nuclear bomb.

The Islamic Republic denies having any such intentions, told Reuters.

Trump also left open whether he would support the use of force to protect Gulf oil supplies that Washington fears might be put in jeopardy by Iran in the brewing confrontation.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said his top diplomatic adviser, Emmanuel Bonne, went to Tehran on Wednesday for talks to help ease the crisis. Bonne has been based in Iran in the past and is a Middle East expert.

An Emirati official watches members of the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet as they prepare to escort journalists to the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous tanker at a U.S. NAVCENT facility near the port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Christopher Pike

Iran, where hardline foes of detente with the West have been strengthened by Trump’s pressure campaign, said on Wednesday it would give European powers no more time beyond July 8 to save the nuclear deal by shielding its economy from U.S. sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s actions were the “minimum” Tehran could undertake one year after the Trump administration withdrew from the deal, but that its steps were reversible “if they return to their commitments.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said later that senior diplomats from Iran, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China - the remaining parties to the nuclear deal - would hold the next quarterly meeting of the accord’s oversight commission in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog is based, on June 28.

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