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US vows to guarantee passage through Strait of Hormuz

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USNS Arctic, and USS Nitze navigate the Strait of Hormuz, July 21, 2016. (J. Alexander Delgado/U.S. Navy)

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

The United States and its ally Saudi Arabia have said they don’t want to go to war with Iran, but insisted they were ready to take all necessary actions to deal with any Iranian threat.

It is “unmistakable” that Iran was responsible for last week’s attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview on June 16.

“We don’t want war,” Pompeo told Fox News, but he added that Washington would “take all the actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise,” to guarantee free navigation through the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Tensions have risen to new heights after the two tankers were attacked on June 13, a month after four others were targeted off the coast of the nearby United Arab Emirates.

The United States and the Saudis blamed the attacks on Iran, which denies any involvement.

In an interview, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince urged the international community to take a “decisive stand.”

“We do not want a war in the region…But we won’t hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity, and our vital interests,” Muhammad bin Salman told the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Meanwhile, Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani hinted that the United States could be behind the tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman to pile pressure on Tehran, according to IRNA.

The official news agency quoted Larijani as telling lawmakers it appeared Washington had staged the “suspicious” attacks after its economic sanctions against Iran had failed to achieve any results.

In his interview with the Fox News Sunday program, Pompeo said that intelligence officials have “lots of data, lots of evidence” tying Iran to the attacks in the Gulf of Oman.

“These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping, on the freedom of navigation, with the clear intent to deny transit through the strait,” he said.

The U.S. state secretary said he did not want to discuss possible next steps the United States might take in response to last week’s developments.

The Pentagon has released a grainy video claiming to show patrol boats from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) removing what appeared to be an unexploded mine from the side of one of the tankers targeted on June 13.

The Kremlin on June 16 warned against “baseless accusations” over the attacks.

“Such incidents can undermine the foundations of the world economy. That’s why it’s hardly possible to accept baseless accusations in this situation,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov said on Russian television.

Earlier the same day, Iranian official media reported that the Foreign Ministry had summoned the British ambassador to protest London’s “blindly and hastily following” Washington in accusing Iran.

Ambassador Rob Macaire denied that, tweeting: “I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’. Of course if formally summoned I would always respond, as would all Ambassadors.”

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on June 16 that Britain was “almost certain” Iran was behind attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

“We have done our own intelligence assessment and the phrase we used is almost certain … We don’t believe anyone else could have done this,” Hunt told a BBC talk show.

Hunt said Britain was calling on “all sides” to de-escalate.

In Italy, Pope Francis said he was following “with concern the increase in tension in the Gulf,” and urged “everyone to use the resources of diplomacy to solve the complex problems in the Middle East.”

Iran in the past has said it could block the strategic Strait of Hormuz as a countermeasure to any attack by the United States.

Such a move would disrupt oil tankers traveling out of the Gulf region and likely lead to a sharp rise in world oil prices.