U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday that naval mines “almost certainly from Iran” were used to attack oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates this month and warned Tehran against new operations.
Mr. Bolton said the “prudent and responsible” approach taken by the United States, which has beefed up its military presence in the region, had made it clear to Iran and its proxies that such actions risked a “very strong” U.S. response.
He was speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi ahead of an emergency summit of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Thursday called to discuss the implications of the tanker attacks and drone strikes two days later on oil pumping stations in the kingdom.
The UAE has not yet blamed anyone for the sabotage of four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, near Fujairah emirate, a major bunkering hub just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
Riyadh has accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes, which were claimed by the Iran-aligned Houthis who have been battling a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in a four-year conflict seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Iran has denied involvement in either attack.
“I think it is clear these (tanker attacks) were naval mines almost certainly from Iran,” Mr. Bolton said. “There is no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who is responsible for this and I think it’s important that the leadership in Iran know that we know.”
There was no immediate response from Iran to the comments by Mr. Bolton, who did not provide evidence to support his statement.
The U.S. official declined to comment on the specifics of an investigation into the attacks in which the United States, France, Norway and Saudi Arabia are taking part, but said the countries and ship owners involved could do so.
A UAE bunker barge and a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker were also hit. France has a naval base in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Bolton said the tanker attacks were connected to the strike on oil pumping stations on the kingdom’s East-West pipeline and a rocket attack on the Green Zone in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
He said there had been a fourth unsuccessful attack on Saudi Arabia’s Yanbu port a few days before the tanker operation but that it was unclear if it was linked to the others. Saudi officials were not immediately available to comment.
Iran strongly rejected Mr. Bolton’s accusations. “Making such laughable claims… is not strange” coming from the U.S., 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,” he added.