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Saudi crown prince tells Iran: 'We won't hesitate to deal with any threat'
Mohammed bin Salman speaks publicly for first time about latest tanker attacks amid fears of regional conflict

  and agencies

Sun 16 Jun 2019 15.27 BST  First published on Sun 16 Jun 2019 05.57 BST 

[Image: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman]  
 
  Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has accused Iran of the latest attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Photograph: Bandar Aldandani/AFP/Getty Images
Mohammed bin Salman has spoken publicly for the first time since a second attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, blaming arch-rival Iran and vowing that Saudi Arabia “won’t hesitate to deal with any threat” to the kingdom’s interests.

According to an interview for pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, published on Sunday, the crown prince said: “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.

“The Iranian regime did not respect the presence of the Japanese prime minister as a guest in Tehran and responded to his [diplomatic] efforts by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese.”

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The attack on two tankers – the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, which was carrying highly flammable methanol when it was rocked by explosions, and the Norwegian-operated Front Altair – came around the time the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was meeting Iranian leaders in Tehran. It was the second attack in a month in the strategic shipping lane.

Meanwhile, in a move likely to increase tensions, Iran will announce on Monday further steps to scale back compliance with the international nuclear pact that the US abandoned last year.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation will announce moves to increase stocks of enriched uranium and production of heavy water at its Arak site. The Iranians plan a blaze of publicity around the steps as a warning to Europe that it must do more to boost trade with Iran, or face serious consequences.

Divisions over responsibility for last week’s attack have deepened amid fears of a major regional confrontation over the strategic shipping channel, despite hints by Donald Trump about possible negotiations with Iran.

Speaking on Sunday, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said that while it was “unmistakable” that Iran was responsible for the attacks on two tankers, the US did not want to go to war with Tehran.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Pompeo said: “President Trump has done everything he can to avoid war. We don’t want war.” But he added that Washington would guarantee free navigation through vital shipping areas.

“The United States is going make sure that we take all the actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise that achieve that outcome

. The intelligence community has lots of data, lots of evidence. The world will come to see much of it,” said Pompeo, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency before becoming secretary of state.

The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said on Sunday Britain was “almost certain” Iran was behind the oil tanker attacks, adding that London did not believe anyone else could have done it.

Speaking on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, he said it was “extraordinary, when there is clear evidence of tankers being blown up in the country, we have Jeremy Corbyn saying this is America’s fault”.

He said it showed the Labour party leader was not fit to be prime minister. Corbyn said on Friday there was no credible evidence Iran was responsible.

Hunt said: “The great risk of the situation we are in is both sides in this dispute think the other would not want a war.”

tanker locator map
Iran has denied carrying out Thursday’s sabotage, disputing footage released by the US military that purports to show Iranian naval commandos removing an unexploded mine from the hull of one of the stricken tankers.

The UK’s ambassador to Tehran, Robert Macaire, went to the Iranian foreign ministry on Thursday to set out the UK’s claims that Iran was responsible for the oil tanker attacks.

He denied Iranian reports that he had been summoned, saying he would have been happy to meet the Iranian government without the need for a summons.

The Iranian government has singled out the UK as the only major European country to back the US intelligence assessment. The UK set out its own independent intelligence in a statement on Friday evening, but stressed it still believed a diplomatic route was the best way to de-escalate the crisis.

The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said on Saturday: “The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.”

Maas was in Tehran before the oil tanker attack last weekfor talks to salvage the nuclear deal that is still backed by Germany, France and the UK.

France has also not yet backed the US -UK judgment that the attack could be attributed to Iran with certainty.

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  Footage US military claims shows Iranian patrol boat removing limpet mine from tanker – video
On Saturday, the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, called on world powers “to secure international navigation and access to energy”, a plea echoed by regional ally Saudi Arabia after the incident sent crude prices soaring.

Iran has repeatedly warned it could block the strategic strait of Hormuz in a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure to any attack by the US. Doing so would disrupt oil tankers travelling out of the Gulf region to the Indian Ocean and global export routes.

The two damaged tankers arrived safely on Sunday at locations off the Emirati coast.

Maritime experts will seek to transfer the highly flammable cargo on board the Kokuka to shore, according to an unnamed official quoted by Japanese state media.

The Japanese trade minister, Hiroshige Seko, said at a G20 meeting in Japan on Saturday: “From a viewpoint of global energy security, it is necessary for the international community to jointly deal with the act.”

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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