Pompeo blames Iran for attack on oil tankers

The Trump administration is blaming Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump calls on foreign countries to protect their own oil tankers Trump to travel to South Korea The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck MORE leveled the accusation from the State Department briefing room on Thursday.

“It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks the occurred in the Gulf of Oman today,” Pompeo said in a roughly five-minute statement.

“This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used and the level of expertise needed the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication,” he added.

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Pompeo did not go into further detail on what evidence the United States has against Iran, and he did not take questions after the statement.

He said he has told acting U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Jonathan Cohen to raise the incident at Thursday afternoon’s U.N. Security Council meeting.

“The United States will defend its forces, interests and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability,” Pompeo said.

The Norwegian-owned MT Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous were reported attacked Thursday morning in the Gulf of Oman about 25 miles off the southern coast of Iran.

U.S. Central Command said the U.S. Navy received two distress calls, one at 6:12 a.m. local time and a second 7 a.m.

The USS Bainbridge guided missile destroyer was operating in the area and responded, Central Command said. Twenty-one mariners from the Kokuka Courageous are now on the Bainbridge, it added.

The attack comes weeks after alleged sabotage attacks against four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The United States similarly blamed those attacks on Iran, pointing to limpet mines that officials said were Iranian.

“On April 22, Iran promised the world it would interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. It is now working to execute on that promise,” Pompeo said Thursday.

Iran has frequently threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of all oil traded by sea passes, but has not in the past acted.

Thursday’s attack occurred during a visit to Iran by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeking to mediate over the Iran nuclear deal.

Citing Abe’s visit, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the attacks “suspicious.”

“Reported attacks on Japan-related tankers occurred while PM @AbeShinzo was meeting with Ayatollah  @khamenei_ir for extensive and friendly talks,” Zarif tweeted. “Suspicious doesn't begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”

Pompeo accused Iran of “insulting” Japan with the attack on the Japanese-owned tanker.

Shortly before Pompeo began his remarks, President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE tweeted that while he “very much appreciate[s] P.M. Abe going to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal.”

“They are not ready, and neither are we!” Trump added.

Last month, the Trump administration warned of unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” coming from Iran and deployed a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the region in response.

The administration is pointing to the tanker attacks, as well as a rocket attack last month that landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, as evidence that the warning was correct.

Pompeo also for the first time Thursday publicly confirmed reports that the signs in early May included the Iran Revolution Guard Corp deploying small boats known a dhows capable of launching missiles.

“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to the international peace and security, a blatant assault of the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Pompeo said. “Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted.”

Trump’s critics have accused the administration of itself escalating tension with Iran. In addition to withdrawing from the nuclear deal last week, the administration has ramped up sanctions and designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

Critics also fear the administration’s rhetoric and actions are a precipitation to war with Iran, accusing officials are inflating intelligence in echoes of the lead up to the Iraq War.

Updated: 3:05 p.m.