LONDON - Iran strongly rejected an accusation by US National Security Advisor John Bolton Wednesday that it was “almost certainly” behind May 12 attacks on four ships off the United Arab Emirates.

“Making such laughable claims… is not strange” coming from the US, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement on its official website.

“Mr Bolton and other warmongers and chaos seekers should know that the strategic patience, high vigilance and complete defensive readiness of the Islamic Republic of Iran… will prevent the fulfilment of their evil desires for chaos in the region,” Mousavi added.

Bolton made his accusation that the four ships were hit by “naval mines almost certainly from Iran” while in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi to discuss what he says is the threat from Tehran.

“There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who’s responsible for this,” Bolton said in a clear reference to Iran.

The accusation comes amid a US military buildup in the Gulf and on the eve of emergency Arab and Gulf summits called by Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia to discuss the standoff.

It also comes two days after President Donald Trump struck a dovish tone during a visit to Japan saying that Washington was not seeking “regime change” in Iran and was open to talks.

Making such laughable claims is not strange, coming from US, Iran says

Bolton said US reinforcements were sent to the region as a “deterrent” and Washington’s response would be prudent. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signaled on Wednesday that talks with the United States might be possible if Washington lifted sanctions, days after US President Donald Trump said a deal with Tehran on its nuclear programme was conceivable.

Washington withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran, and is ratcheting up sanctions in efforts to shut down Iran’s economy by ending its international sales of crude oil. Trump said on Monday: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.”

Rouhani said in remarks carried by state television: “Whenever they lift the unjust sanctions and fulfill their commitments and return to the negotiations table, which they left themselves, the door is not closed.” “But our people judge you by your actions, not your words.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Tuesday that Iran saw no prospect of negotiations with the United States.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since Washington deployed military resources including a carrier strike group and bombers and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.

Tankers almost certainly damaged by Iranian naval mines, US says

US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said “naval mines almost certainly from Iran” were to blame for the damage to oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this month. Mr Bolton provided no evidence to support the allegation, which Iran said was “laughable”. The attacks off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates on 12 May left holes in the hulls of four ships.

The incident came amid an escalation in tensions between Iran and the US. Last Friday, US Vice Admiral Michael Gilday said he believed “with a high degree of confidence that this [attack] stems back to the leadership of Iran at the highest levels”.

Mr Bolton, a long-standing advocate for regime change in Iran, echoed the admiral’s words during a visit to the UAE on Wednesday, telling reporters it was “clear that Iran is behind” the attack. But Abbas Mousavi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, rejected Mr Bolton’s accusations.

“Raising this ludicrous claim in a meeting of those with a long history of anti-Iran policies is not strange,” he told Fars news agency. “Iran’s strategic patience, vigilance and defensive prowess will defuse mischievous plots made by Bolton and other warmongers.”

Few details have been released, but it took place at about 06:00 (02:00 GMT) on Sunday, 12 May, within UAE territorial waters east of the emirate of Fujairah, just outside the Strait of Hormuz.

 

The UAE authorities said four ships were targeted in a “sabotage attack”.

There were no casualties but Saudi Arabia said two of its ships had suffered “significant damage”. Another tanker was Norwegian-registered, while the fourth was UAE-flagged. The UAE has not publicly blamed anyone for the sabotage of the vessels.

On paper, little. No US-flagged ship was attacked, and no evidence has been provided that Iran was involved. But the US sees the attack as part of a wider “campaign” against it and its allies approved by Iranian leaders.

Mr Bolton said Iran-backed forces also carried out drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia on 14 May and fired a rocket into an area of the Iraqi capital Baghdad that houses the US embassy on 19 May.

He also revealed that there had been “an unsuccessful attack on the Saudi port of Yanbu a couple of days before the attack on tankers”. Iran has denied it was involved in the attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The tensions began rising at the start of May, when Washington ended exemptions from sanctions for countries still buying from Iran. The decision was intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the government its main source of revenue.

Mr Trump reinstated the sanctions a year ago after abandoning the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with six nations - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.