WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for what he called a blatant assault on two ships in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday and said the United States will defend itself and its allies against Iran’s actions in the region.
Speaking to reporters for just four minutes and taking no questions, Pompeo said the assessment of blame is based on intelligence, the type of weapons used and the level of expertise needed, and that no Iranian-backed militia in the region has the resources or proficiency to pull off such a sophisticated operation against the two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
Pompeo said the impetus behind the attacks was the administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions that U.S. officials say are designed to get Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program and its support of militias in various neighboring countries.
“Our policy remains an economic and diplomatic effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table at the right time and encourage a comprehensive deal that addresses the broad range of threats,” Pompeo said. “Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terror, bloodshed and extortion.”
Pompeo said the United States would raise the issue of the attack at the United Nations Security Council later Thursday.
One year after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated with Iran by his predecessor, tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated sharply.
Pompeo ticked off some of the recent incidents against the United States and its allies, part of what he characterized as “40 years of unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations.”
Among them were attacks on four ships in the Gulf last month, the deployment of small boats capable of launching missiles, a missile strike on an international airport in Saudi Arabia and a car bomb in Afghanistan that wounded U.S. service members and killed four civilians.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” he said.
Thursday’s attack on a Japanese and a Norwegian tanker came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran to ask that Iran de-escalate the situation and enter into negotiations with the United States.
“Iran’s Supreme Leader rejected Prime Minister Abe’s diplomacy today by saying he has no response to President Trump and will not answer,” Pompeo said. He called the attack on the Japanese tanker an insult to Abe’s nation.
He quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s “sardonic” response to the tanker attacks: “Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”
“Foreign Minister Zarif may think this is funny,” Pompeo said, “but no one else in the world does. Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful max-pressure campaign lifted. No economic sanctions tell the Islamic Republic to attack innocent civilians, disrupt global oil markets and engage in nuclear blackmail. The international community condemns Iran’s assault on the freedom of navigation and the targeting of innocent civilians.”