The United States could present evidence linking Iran to attacks on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates earlier this month to the United Nations Security Council as early as next week, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Thursday.
“I don’t think anybody who is familiar with the situation in the region, whether they have examined the evidence or not, has come to any conclusion other than that these attacks were carried out by Iran or their surrogates,” Bolton told reporters in London.
On Wednesday, Bolton, without offering evidence, alleged the tankers were targeted by “naval mines almost certainly from Iran”. Tehran rejected the accusation as “ridiculous” and has repeatedly denied any involvement in the incident.
Tensions between the United States and Iran mounted this month, a year after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and several other world powers. The deal saw Iran agree to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
Washington has since steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran: reimposing sanctions, moving to cut the country’s oil exports to zero, blacklisting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a “terrorist group” and deploying US military units to the Gulf in response to an unspecified threat.
Bolton, who has previously called for “the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran“, denied on Thursday that the White House was pursuing a “policy of regime change” and instead said the US move to send an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region was a move to stymie any show of aggression by Iran.
“I don’t think this threat is over, but I do think you can make at least a conditional claim that the quick response and the deployment and other steps that we took did serve as a deterrent,” he said, adding that any attacks on US troops, military units or facilities in the Gulf would draw a “very strong response” from Trump’s administration.
Despite repeated threats of readiness to retaliate to any attack from the other, both Washington and Tehran have also repeatedly stated they do not want war.
On Thursday, Trump said he was available for talks with Iran’s leadership. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out talks with the White House for the time being, however.
Separately on Thursday, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have lobbied Washington to contain Iran, said they wanted to avoid conflict with their regional rival as the former hosted emergency Arab summits over the ongoing tensions.
Two days after the attack on the oil tankers off the UAE’s coastline, Saudi Arabia said armed drones struck two oil pumping stations in the kingdom. Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering the May 14 attacks, for which Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed responsibility.
Saudi King Salman told a Gulf Arab meeting, in advance of a separate Arab summit, that Iran’s development of nuclear and missile capabilities and its threatening of global oil supplies posed a risk to regional and international security.
“It must be said that the absence of a severe and firm stance towards the subversive actions of the Iranian regime in the region caused it to go too far, as we see today,” he said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf had told a gathering of his counterparts in Jeddah before the Mecca summits that the attacks on oil assets must be addressed with “strength and firmness”.
Gulf states have a joint defence force under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the alliance has been fractured by a dispute that has seen Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and non-GCC Egypt impose a boycott on fellow member Qatar since mid-2017.
Saudi King Salman invited Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whose country is home to the largest US military base in the region, to the Mecca summits.
Qatar, meanwhile, confirmed Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani would attend, the highest Qatari official to visit the kingdom since the rift.
Qatar, which shares a giant gas field with Iran, has offered to help ease tensions in the region, while Iraq and Oman, which have good ties with Tehran and Washington, said they were working at lessening the friction.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said meanwhile that Tehran wanted balanced ties with its Gulf neighbours and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.