US-Iran tensions updates
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The US and UK have blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker in the Gulf that killed a Briton and a Romanian in an assault that threatens to heighten tensions between Tehran and the west.
In separate statements on Sunday, Washington and London said they were working with their partners to respond to last week’s attack on MV Mercer Street, which is managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime, as it was in international waters off Oman.
Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said Washington was “confident that Iran conducted this attack”. He added that such actions “threaten freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved”.
Dominic Raab, his British counterpart, said the UK believed the attack “was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran”.
“Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law,” Raab said. “The UK is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack.”
Israel had previously blamed Iran for the attack. Tehran on Sunday rejected Israel’s claims, with Iran’s foreign ministry adding that the Jewish state should know that “if you sow the wind you reap the whirlwind”.
The two regional enemies have been involved in a shadow war in which both states have blamed the other for targeting their vessels.
Iran has also accused Israel of assassinating a top nuclear scientist and attacking its main uranium enrichment site at its Natanz atomic facility.
The UK foreign ministry said “reporting indicates” that since February at least three other Israeli-linked ships have been attacked in the region.
It added that Iran was “almost certainly responsible” for attacks on two vessels in the Gulf of Oman in 2019. Those assaults rattled the global shipping and oil industries as the Gulf’s waterways, particularly the Strait of Hormuz, are vital trade routes and a choke point for crude exports out of the oil-rich region.
The 2019 tanker attacks, which caused limited damage, took place a year after Donald Trump, then US president, unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear accord Tehran signed with world powers and imposed waves of crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Hopes rose that tensions would de-escalate after the election of President Joe Biden, who pledged that the US would rejoin the 2015 nuclear accord if Iran fell back into full compliance with the deal.
The Biden administration has been negotiating indirectly with Iran on a return to the nuclear deal as Tehran has held a series of talks with the accord’s remaining signatories, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
But the fatal attack on the tanker risks complicating a complex and fragile process.
The nuclear talks have in effect been put on hold since Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric, won Iran’s presidential election in June. Raisi takes office this week, replacing Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who was an architect of the nuclear deal and who has completed his second and final term.
Raisi has said he will continue the negotiations on the nuclear accord. But with hardliners who are wary of engaging with the west in full control of all branches of the state, Tehran will take a tougher stance. Iran has insisted that the US must lift all sanctions before it reduces its nuclear activity in line with the 2015 agreement.