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US looks to build international support amid soaring tensions with Iran

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, commander, United States Strategic Command, deliver testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the proposal to establish a United States Space Force at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, April 11, 2019. (DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says Washington is focused on building international support “and making contingency plans should the situation deteriorate” following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the United States blames on Iran.

“When you look at the situation — a Norwegian ship, a Japanese ship, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. — 15 percent of the world’s oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz,” Shanahan told reporters on June 14, referring to the two most recent attacks on shipping in the region.

“So we obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate. We also need to broaden our [international] support for this international situation,” he added.

President Donald Trump earlier in the day accused Iran of carrying out the June 13 attacks against the two oil tankers.

“Iran did it,” Trump said on the Fox News Channel. He added that Iran’s culpability had been “exposed” and suggested “very tough” U.S. sanctions.

That followed comments a day earlier by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the U.S. government had assessed that “Iran is responsible” for the attacks.

The U.S. military on June 13 also released video showing what it said was a crew from an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) patrol boat removing what appeared to be an unexploded mine from the side of one of the ships after the attack.

Iran has denied any connection with the attacks and said the video proved nothing.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, on June 14 called Washington’s allegations “alarming,” saying that “accusing Iran for such a suspicious and unfortunate incident is the simplest and the most convenient way for Pompeo and other U.S. officials.”

China, the European Union, and some other nations have urged restraint on all sides.

While some allies, including Germany, have said it remains unclear who is responsible for the attacks, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said no other state or nonstate actor could have been responsible.

“Our own assessment leads us to conclude that responsibility for the attacks almost certainly lies with Iran. These latest attacks build on a pattern of destabilizing Iranian behavior and pose a serious danger to the region,” Hunt said.

Shi’ite Muslim Iran’s archrival, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, has also accused Iran of being behind the attack.

Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League called on Iran to “be careful and reverse course.”

“My call to my Iranian — and I call them Iranian — brothers: Be careful and reverse course because you’re pushing everybody toward a confrontation that no one would be safe if it happens,” Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said, while acknowledging that uncertainty remains regarding responsibility for the tanker attacks.

In looking to build consensus, U.S. acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen on June 13 called upon on the UN Security Council to confront the “clear threat” posed by Tehran in the region.

The attacks “demonstrate the clear threat that Iran poses to international peace and security,” Cohen told reporters following the closed-door Security Council meeting.

Shanahan said the Pentagon’s role would include sharing intelligence, as it did by publicly releasing the video.

“The more information that we can declassify, the more information we can share, we will. And that’s our intent,” Shanahan said.

The latest incident comes a month after attacks on four tankers off the coast of the nearby United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) increased tensions between Tehran and Washington and U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.

The U.A.E. said initial findings of its investigation pointed to the likelihood that a “state actor” was behind the bombings, but did not specifically name Iran.

Trump, along with his tough words, has also held out the possibility of talks with Tehran.

“They’ve been told in very strong terms we want to get them back to the table,” he said.

Trump in May 2018 withdrew the United States from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with six world powers, saying the terms were not tough enough and that Tehran had not lived up to the spirit of the pact by supporting extremist violence in the region – something Iran has denied.

Trump has reimposed sanctions against Tehran that had been eased under the nuclear deal and has especially targeted Iran’s banking and all-important energy sector.