Tanker Attacks Blamed on Iran: Pompeo Says Some Countries ‘Just Wish This Would Go Away’

Patrick Goodenough | June 17, 2019 | 1:52am EDT
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The Norwegian-owned Front Altair tanker burns in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday rejected suggestions that allies do not believe the U.S. claim that Iran is behind recent provocative actions near the Persian Gulf, although he said he would “concede there are countries that just wish this would go away, and they want to act in a way that is counterfactual.”

Pompeo told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that none of the many people he has spoken to in recent weeks about the attacks on tankers and other incidents in the Gulf region over the past 40 days has disputed Iran’s responsibility.

“No-one disputes that this is the Islamic Republic of Iran taking these actions to deny … freedom of navigation that is a fundamental right of every country,” he said.

After two tankers caught fire after explosions near the Persian Gulf last Thursday, U.S. Central Command released grainy video footage captured by surveillance drone, showing what CENTCOM said were personnel in an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) patrol boat appearing to remove an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of one of the two targeted ships.

On Friday Pompeo’s German counterpart, Heiko Maas, expressed skepticism, saying that the video clip was not sufficient evidence to enable Germany to attribute blame.

The Japanese government has also asked for more proof, with the Kyodo news agency quoting an unnamed government official as saying Sunday that Pompeo’s assertions were “not convincing.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif in Tehran on June 10, 2019. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the two ships attacked on Thursday is operated by a Japanese company. The incident occurred as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became his country’s first prime minister to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Germany’s Maas had also visited Tehran several days earlier.

By contrast to Germany and Japan, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain after its own assessment was “almost certain” Iran was behind the attack on the ships.

“We don’t believe anyone else could have done this,” Hunt told the BBC on Sunday.

(Britain’s Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in a tweet earlier implied there was no credible evidence of Iran’s involvement, a stance Hunt dismissed as “pathetic and predictable.”)

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in a weekend interview with a pan-Arab newspaper, also blamed Iran, the kingdom’s archrival, for the attacks.

In the CBS interview, Pompeo was asked about difficulties in convincing allies of Iran’s culpability.

“Some allies have said that video released was not enough to convince them,” host Margaret Brennan noted. “With the exception of the U.K. and Saudi Arabia, some allies are saying we need to see more and hear more from the United States.”

Brennan linked those challenges to a recent poll in which 51 percent of American respondents viewed President Trump as dishonest compared to 33 percent who said otherwise.

“If you have a credibility gap that is going to be hard for you to sell something to the American public, how do you resolve that?” she asked.

“We’re not selling anything,” Pompeo replied. “These are simple facts. I've had many conversations over the past, frankly, weeks talking about Iran's activity. No one doubts the dataset.”

Brennan pointed out Maas’ response to the CENTCOM video: “The German foreign minister said the video was not enough.”

“The German foreign minister has seen a great deal more than just that video. He will continue to see more,” Pompeo said.

“I will concede there are countries that just wish this would go away and they want to act in a way that is counterfactual.”

“I’ve seen no one deny it [Iran’s responsibility], and I’m confident that as we continue to develop the fact pattern, countries around the world will not only accept the basic facts – which I think are indisputable – but will come to understand that this is an important mission for the world.”

Pompeo pointed out that it is major energy customers like China, South Korea, and Japan that are heavily dependent on crude oil flowing through the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz – far more so than the United States these days.

“We’re prepared to do our part. We always defend freedom of navigation,” he said. “We are going to work to build out a set of countries that have deep vested interest in keeping that strait open, to help us do that.”

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani speaks alongside President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)

‘False flag operations’

Iran continues to insinuate that the ships were attacked by its enemies, in a “false flag” operation aimed at increasing pressure on the regime.

On Sunday, parliament speaker Ali Larijani told lawmakers the attacks on the ships had all the markings of a U.S. provocation, adding that the U.S. has a track record of fabricating incidents as a pretext for aggression.

In a statement, Iran’s mission to the U.N. said neither fabrications nor disinformation campaigns by the U.S. could change reality.

“The U.S. and its regional allies must stop warmongering and put an end to mischievous plots as well as false flag operations in the region,” it said.

Iranian media outlets also cited Hamid-Reza Asefi, a former Iranian diplomat frequently quoted in the media, as saying the “Zionist regime” was responsible.

Russian state media aired similar allegations of a conspiracy.

The TASS news agency quoted the head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies’ Center of the Near and Middle East, Vladimir Fitin, as charging that the tankers were attacked by “forces seeking to push the U.S. towards a direct armed conflict with Iran.”

TASS said Fitin pointed a finger at Israel and the Arab Gulf states.

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