ABU DHABI • US National Security Adviser John Bolton said yesterday that naval mines "almost certainly from Iran" were used to attack oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates this month.
Warning Teheran against new operations, Mr Bolton said the "prudent and responsible" approach of the United States, which has beefed up its military presence in the region, had made it clear to Iran and its proxies that such actions risked a "very strong" US response.
He was speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi ahead of emergency summits of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia today, called to discuss the implications of the tanker attacks and drone strikes two days later on oil pumping stations in the kingdom.
The UAE has not yet blamed anyone for the sabotage of four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, near Fujairah emirate, a major bunkering hub just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
Riyadh has accused Teheran of ordering the armed drone strikes, which were claimed by the Iran-aligned Houthis who have been battling a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in a four-year conflict seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Iran has denied involvement in either attack.
MESSAGE TO TEHERAN
There is no doubt in anybody's mind in Washington who is responsible for this and I think it's important that the leadership in Iran know that we know.
U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER JOHN BOLTON
"I think it is clear these (tanker attacks) were naval mines almost certainly from Iran," Mr Bolton said. "There is no doubt in anybody's mind in Washington who is responsible for this and I think it's important that the leadership in Iran know that we know."
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman yesterday strongly rejected the remarks by Mr Bolton, who did not provide evidence to support his statement.
Mr Bolton said the tanker attacks were connected to the strike on oil pumping stations on the kingdom's East-West pipeline and a rocket attack on the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
He said there had been a fourth unsuccessful attack on Saudi Arabia's Yanbu port a few days before the operation off Fujairah but that it was unclear if it was linked to the others.
Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated since President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and re-imposed sanctions on Teheran, notably targeting its key oil exports. Iran says it will not be cowed by what it has described as psychological warfare.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signalled yesterday that talks with the US might be possible if Washington lifted sanctions and met its commitments under the nuclear deal, state TV said.
Sunni Muslim allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE have backed sanctions against Shi'ite Iran, a fellow Opec producer but a regional foe, and have lobbied Washington to contain Teheran.
Mr Bolton also voiced concern about perceived threats from the overseas arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
"We are very concerned about the Quds Force and Qassem Soleimani using Shi'ite militia groups and others in Iraq as indirect ways to attack our embassy in Baghdad, consulate in Erbil (and) our various bases around the country," he said.