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June 17, 2019

Won’t hesitate to tackle any threat to kingdom: MBS

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June 17, 2019

DUBAI/TEHRAN:: In his first public comments since the attacks, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in remarks published Sunday he "won’t hesitate" to tackle any threats to the oil-rich kingdom. "We do not want a war in the region. But we won’t hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our vital interests," he told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat. "The Iranian regime did not respect the presence of the Japanese prime minister as a guest in Tehran and responded to his (diplomatic) efforts by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese."

The Saudi crown prince also accused "Iran and its proxies" over May 12 attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the UAE port of Fujairah. Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia will "not accept the presence of militias on its borders".

Meanwhile, a damaged Japanese tanker arrived Sunday at a UAE anchorage site after it was rocked by explosions in Gulf waters as Saudi Arabia accused arch-rival Iran of being behind the attack. The Kokuka Courageous was carrying highly flammable methanol through the Gulf of Oman on Thursday when it came under attack along with the Norwegian-operated Front Altair -- the second assault in a month in the strategic shipping lane.

US President Donald Trump has said the twin attacks had Iran "written all over it" -- rejecting Tehran’s vehement denial -- and its key Gulf ally Saudi Arabia has also lashed out against Tehran.

While, Iran’s parliament speaker hinted Sunday that Washington could be behind the "suspicious" tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman to pile pressure on Tehran, official news agency IRNA reported. "The suspicious actions against the tankers seem to complement the economic sanctions against Iran considering that (the US) has not achieved any results from them," Ali Larijani told MPs. He backed his claim by saying there had been a precedent "during World War II, when Americans targeted their own ships near Japan to create an excuse for hostility".

A non-belligerent state at the beginning of World War II, the US went to war after Japan´s surprise attack on the American Pearl Harbour base in Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941.

Washington accused Tehran of being behind the attacks, that took place at the same time that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran for talks aimed at defusing tensions between Iran and the United States.

Iran´s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the US claim as "baseless" and said Washington had "immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran -- (without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence".

Meanwhile, the Japanese government is not convinced by the US claim that Iran is to be blamed for the attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, government sources said Sunday.

The Japanese government has been requesting the US for concrete evidence to back its assertion that Iran attacked tankers. The request came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a statement hours after the attacks blaming Iran but without offering proof. The Department of Defence later released a video allegedly showing an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine attached to the side of the Japanese operated tanker Kokuka Courageous.

But Japanese government officials remain unconvinced, the sources said. The US explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation said one senior government official. Japan has been seeking more concrete evidence through various channels including Foreign Minister Taro Kono who is likely to have made the request during a call with his counterpart on Friday, the sources said.

Pompeo said in a press conference Thursday that the United States assessment was based on their intelligence the weapons used the level of expertise needed to execute 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.

A source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “These are not definite proof that its Iran. Even if its the United States that makes the assertion we cannot simply say we believe it,” he said.

While the Japanese prime minister was visiting Iran after 4 decades and many expected even more reduction of the tensions in the region due his visit in another suspicious and provocative move two large tankers were hit by explosions in the Sea of Oman on Thursday a move that can intensify the tensions more than before.

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