Iran claims right to respond to 'unacceptable' USA sanctions

The countries' permanent representatives to the United Nations also condemned the attacks on two Saudi-flagged, one Norwegian-flagged, and one Emirati-flagged vessel and said they posed a threat to worldwide shipping and the environment in joint statement issued on Thursday, the Saudi official news agency SPA reported.

Despite worldwide scepticism, the United States government has been pointing to increasing threats from Iran, a long-time enemy and also a rival of U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Two pumping stations along Aramco's East-West oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia were attacked by explosive-laden drones in the early morning local time on Tuesday, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, citing Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, who described the attack as one of "terrorism and sabotage".

"The attack by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias against the two Aramco pumping stations proves that these militias are merely a tool that Iran's regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda in the region, and not to protect the people of Yemen as the Houthis falsely claim".

Yemen's Huthi rebels had claimed responsibility Tuesday for twin drone strikes on the pipeline from the oil-rich Eastern Province to the Red Sea coast. Still, Gargash was quick to dismiss an anonymous USA official's claim blaming Iran for the ships' sabotage, saying the UAE is closer to the investigation. A high-ranking British general said there was no new threat from Iran or its regional proxies, something immediately rebutted by the US military's Central Command, which said its troops were on high alert, without elaborating.

Last week, USA officials said they had detected signs of Iranian preparations for potential attacks on US forces and interests in the Middle East, but Washington has not publicly provided any evidence to back up claims of an increased Iranian threat.

Iran's foreign minister has said "extremist individuals" in the USA government were pursuing unsafe policies and Tehran is not seeking confrontation.

America should launch "surgical strikes" against Iran, a state-affiliated Saudi newspaper has said.

Gulf tensions have spiked since the USA stopped granting waivers to buyers of Iranian oil early this month, tightening sanctions slapped on the Islamic Republic after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal a year ago.

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On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department ordered all nonessential government staff to leave Iraq, and Germany and the Netherlands both suspended their military assistance programs in the country in the latest sign of tensions.

Last week, the United States sent the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, its strike group, and B-52 bombers to the Gulf.

US officials believe Iran encouraged the Houthis or Iraq-based Shi'ite militias to carry out the attack, two USA government sources have said. Gen. Chris Ghika's comments exposed global skepticism over the American military buildup.

Anwar Gargash, the minister of foreign affairs for the United Arab Emirates, told reporters in Dubai that the Saudi-led coalition will "retaliate hard" for attacks on civilian targets, without elaborating. The U.S. pulled out of the deal past year, reimposing sanctions that penalize countries and global companies that do business with Iran. -Iranian tension following Washington's decision this month to try to cut Tehran's oil exports to zero and beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it called Iranian threats.

Speaking about Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, Zarif was quoted as also saying: "A multilateral deal can not be treated unilaterally".

Though Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, scientists say the time needed to reach the 90 percent threshold for weapons-grade uranium is halved once uranium is enriched to around 20%.

Meanwhile, the Qatar-funded satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera said Qatar is trying to "defuse escalating tensions". The other ships were a Norwegian-registered oil products tanker and a UAE-flagged bunker barge.

It asked it followers: "Should a war erupt against Iran, is Qatar likely to side with Tehran or with Saudi Arabia and its allies?"

  • Sonia Alvarado