United Arab Emirates, June 17 (AP/UNB) — Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in remarks published Sunday that the kingdom will not hesitate to confront Iranian threats to its security. He joined the U.S. in accusing its bitter rival Iran of being behind the attacks on two oil tankers traveling near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital trade route for Arabian energy exports.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf have escalated since the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the region in what it says is defensive posturing against alleged Iranian threats. The crisis takes root in the Trump Administration's decision to re-impose punishing economic sanctions on Tehran and its oil exports, after unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
The U.S. alleges Iran used limpet mines to target the tankers on Thursday, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured that American officials describe as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous.
The Japanese tanker's crewmembers appeared to contradict the assertion that mines were used. They described "flying objects" as having targeted the vessel.
In his first public comments regarding the attacks, the powerful Saudi prince, who is also defense minister and oversees all major levers of power in the country, said the incident "confirms the importance of our demands of the international community to take a decisive stance" against Iran's behavior.
"The kingdom does not seek war in the region," the prince said, speaking with the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. "But we will not hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, sovereignty and vital interests."
The prince claimed Iran had planned the attack's timing to undercut the Japanese prime minister's diplomatic efforts, during his visit to Tehran last week, to reduce regional tensions.
He did not offer any evidence to back up the allegation.
"The problem is in Tehran and not anywhere else," he added. "Iran is always the party that's escalating in the region, carrying out terrorist attacks and criminal attacks either directly or through its militias."
Prince Mohammed touted U.S.-Saudi relations as "essential to achieving regional security and stability."
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the U.S. official position. He claimed that intelligence officials have "lots of data, lots of evidence" tying Iran to the attacks, though he did not provide any specifics. He called the alleged shipping attacks "an international challenge, important to the entire globe."
He said Trump was following an "economic pressure campaign" against Iran but "we do not want war." He added that the "unambiguous" object of U.S. actions was that Iran would not get nuclear weapons.
Iran rejects accusations it was responsible for Thursday's attacks, saying it stands ready to play an active and constructive role in ensuring the security of maritime passages. It said the massive U.S. military presence in the region and U.S. sanctions are the main sources of insecurity and instability in the Persian Gulf.
Thursday's incidents forced the evacuation of all 44 sailors aboard the two vessels. On Saturday, Associated Press journalists saw the crew members of the Norwegian-owned oil tanker MT Front Altair arrive at Dubai International Airport, after spending two days in Iran.
The Front Altair, which caught fire after the apparent attack, limped into anchorage Sunday off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates, near the port city of Khorfakkan.
Similar to the recent attacks, four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were apparently targeted in acts of sabotage last month, which U.S. officials have also blamed on Iran. Two of those vessels belonged to Saudi Arabia.
Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, have also claimed they were behind a missile strike on a Saudi airport in the city of Abha that the kingdom said wounded 26 passengers. The Houthis also carried out a drone strike last month on a key Saudi oil pipeline
Dubai, Jun 16 (AP/UNB) -The Norwegian-owned oil tanker Front Altair, which caught fire after being apparently attacked last week in the Gulf of Oman, has arrived off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
The ship's position was some 20 miles off the coast of the Emirati port city of Khorfakkan on Sunday.
The Front Altair caught fire after the attack Thursday, sending a thick cloud of black smoke visible even by satellite from space.
On Saturday, Associated Press journalists saw the crew members of Front Altair after their Iran Air flight from Bandar Abbas, Iran, landed at Dubai International Airport.
The U.S. has blamed Iran for what it described as an attack with limpet mines on the two tankers. Tehran rejects the allegation, instead accusing the U.S. under President Donald Trump of pursuing an "Iranophobic" campaign against it.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says the kingdom isn't seeking war in the region, but won't hesitate to deal with any threats to its people and vital interests.
In his first public remarks since attacks last month on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, the powerful Saudi prince accused Iran of using militias to destabilize the region.
He said the attacks days earlier on vessels in the Gulf of Oman, as well as on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia and a civilian airport in the kingdom's southern city of Abha, "confirm the importance of our demands of the international community to take a decisive stance" against Iran's behavior.
He made the remarks in an interview published Sunday by the pan-Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
Yemen's Houthi rebels say they've launched a new drone attack against Saudi Arabia. The kingdom says it shot down one Houthi drone.
The Houthi's Al-Masirah satellite news channel announced the attack late Saturday night. Yahia al-Sarie, a Houthi spokesman, said their drones targeted airports in Jizan and Abha in Saudi Arabia.
Early Sunday, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said it shot down a drone near the Abha regional airport.
A statement from spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki did not address the Houthi claim regarding a drone attack on Jizan.
The Houthis say they launched a cruise missile that struck the Abha airport Wednesday. Saudi Arabia says that attack wounded 26 people.
Dubai, Jun 13 (AP/UNB) — The leader of Japan is visiting Iran to warn that an "accidental conflict" could be sparked amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered that message just hours after Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.
Abe's trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate the crisis as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers. The Trump administration pulled out of the accord last year.
Success may prove difficult for Abe, as the Houthi rebel attack on Saudi Arabia's Abha regional airport underscored. The attack is just the latest in a wave of rebel drone and missile attacks targeting the kingdom, which has been mired in a yearslong war in Yemen.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has underlined a joint commitment to finding peaceful solutions to the standoff over Iran as she meets with one of Tehran's most prominent regional rivals.
Germany is one of the signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that is trying to salvage the agreement following the United States' withdrawal and amid increasing impatience in Tehran. Germany's foreign minister visited Iran Monday.
Merkel met Wednesday with Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Gulf kingdom's de facto ruler and a critic of Iran. She said that, although their countries hold partly diverging views, "the will to reach peaceful solutions unites us."
The crown prince didn't mention Iran in a brief statement to reporters on his wide-ranging talks with Merkel in Berlin. The leaders took no questions.
The Trump administration is imposing sanctions on an Iraq-based affiliate of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
The Treasury Department says the penalties target the South Wealth Resources Company in Baghdad and two executives. The U.S. says the company and the two men are linked to the Guard's foreign wing, or Quds Force.
The administration last month designated the Guard as a foreign terrorist organization, which makes providing the Guard with material support illegal under U.S. law.
The new sanctions freeze any assets that the targets may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them.
The announcement comes as Japan's prime minister visits Iran in an effort to lower tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is calling for "more patience" amid tensions between Iran and the U.S.
Abe made the comments Wednesday night beside President Hassan Rouhani after closed-door talks during his visit to Tehran.
Abe says he and Rouhani "bluntly discussed" the crisis.
The Japanese premier added: "There is possibility of an accidental conflict and a military conflict should be prevented at all costs."
Rouhani earlier said that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions. Abe did not acknowledge that in his remarks.
Rouhani added: "Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world."
Iran's president says the Islamic Republic does not seek war with the U.S., but will give "a crushing response" if it is attacked.
Rouhani made the comment Wednesday night as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood by him.
Rouhani also said that Japan wanted to continue to buy Iranian oil, though Tokyo has stopped over American sanctions.
Rouhani added: "Whenever the economic war stops, we will see a very positive development in the region and the world."
The Japanese leader is in Tehran on a mission to calm tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The Trump administration has re-imposed heavy sanctions on Iran after deciding to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal a year ago. The U.S. recently deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf.
Yemeni officials say that the Saudi-led coalition has launched airstrikes against a Houthi rebel stronghold in the country's north.
They say the strikes hit targets in the Baqim district, in the province of Saada. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
The Wednesday airstrikes came hours after the Iranian-allied rebels launched a cruise missile hitting an airport in Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 people.
The rebel-linked Al-Masirah satellite news channel claimed that the Saudi-led forces also bombed civilian areas in another nearby district.
Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition supporting Yemen's internationally recognized government and fighting the Houthi rebels since March 2015.
Tehran, Jun 12 (AP/UNB) — With Japan's prime minister on the way to Tehran for a historic visit, a hard-line Iranian paper published a front page image Wednesday of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast — a reference to America's bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II that underscores the challenge ahead for Shinzo Abe.
Abe's trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year. It's also the first visit of a sitting Japanese premier in the 40 years since the Islamic Revolution.
But success may prove difficult for Abe, as the front page of the daily Farheekhtegan, or Educated, suggests.
"How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?" the newspaper asked in dual English and Farsi headlines. Hard-line news outlets in Iran immediately picked up the front page from the paper, published by students of Islamic Azad University, which has campuses across the nation.
Iran is threatening to resume enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade level on July 7 if European allies fail to offer new terms for the nuclear deal. While President Donald Trump says he wants to talk to Tehran, the U.S. has piled on sanctions that have seen Iran's currency, the rial, plummet, along with Iran's crucial oil exports.
The U.S. also has sent an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region, along with hundreds more troops to back up the tens of thousands already deployed across the Middle East. The U.S. blames Iran for a mysterious attack on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, while Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen continue to launch coordinated drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.
Abe will arrive in Tehran on Wednesday afternoon as an interlocutor for Trump, who recently visited Tokyo. Abe will hold talks with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani during his visit.
Abe acknowledged the challenge ahead just before he boarded his airplane at Tokyo's Haneda Airport.
"There are concerns over rising tension in the Middle East region," he said. "Japan wants to do as much as possible towards peace and stability in the region."
Japan had once purchased Iranian oil, but it has now stopped over American sanctions. However, Mideast oil remains crucial to Japan and recent threats from Iran to close off the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes, has raised concerns.
Iran's nuclear deal, agreed to at the time by China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the U.S., saw Tehran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions. Western powers feared Iran's atomic program could allow it to build nuclear weapons, although Iran long has insisted its program was for peaceful purposes.
In withdrawing from the deal last year, Trump pointed to the accord not limiting Iran's ballistic missile program and not addressing what American officials describe as Tehran's malign influence across the wider Mideast. Those who struck the deal at the time described it as a building block toward further negotiations with Iran, whose Islamic government has had a tense relationship with America since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and subsequent hostage crisis.
Already, Iran says it quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium. Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions have cut off opportunities for Iran to trade its excess uranium and heavy water abroad, putting Tehran on course to violate terms of the nuclear deal regardless.
Trump spoke Tuesday with Abe, said Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief Cabinet secretary. Suga declined to give any details about what they discussed. Abe also in recent days spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, all of whom are fierce critics of Iran.
Beirut, Jun 3 (AP/UNB) — A car bomb killed at least 13 people Sunday night near a mosque in a northern town held by Turkey-backed fighters, and wounded dozens of people, Syrian opposition activists said.
The blast in the town of Azaz occurred Sunday as scores of people were leaving the mosque of Maytam, wounding dozens including children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory said the blast killed at least 14 people. It said the dead included four children.
The Azaz Media Center, a local activist collective, reported at least 13 deaths, along with many others wounded.
The blast occurred after the "iftar" meal that breaks a daylong fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The attack came a few days before Muslims celebrate the end of the holy moth with Eid el-Fitr, one of Islam's most important feasts.
The town, which was once controlled by rival Kurdish fighters opposed to Turkey, has been hit by similar attacks in the past.