Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that more evidence will be released soon to prove the administration’s assertion that Iran was responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week.
Despite some skepticism from U.S. allies and Democrats, Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday” that U.S. intelligence provided “unmistakable” evidence of Iranian culpability. He said “the world will come to see” much of the intelligence and data that led the administration to that conclusion.
“The American people should rest assured, we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks, as well as half dozen other attacks throughout the world over the past 40 days,” he said.
But questions have swirled in recent days around the evidence and the interpretation of it, in part because allies and some members of Congress question the administration’s credibility.
Though Pompeo called the evidence “unmistakable,” many countries are asking for more proof.
The owner of the Japanese tanker has said the crew believes the vessel was hit by a flying object, not a mine, as the United States has asserted. And Sunday, Japan’s Kyodo News Agency said “a source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe” told the agency that Pompeo’s evidence did not amount to “definite proof” that Iran carried out the attack.
Germany’s foreign minister has also questioned the utility of a video released by the Pentagon purporting to show Iranians in a small patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers, saying it is insufficient as evidence.
Pompeo brushed the skepticism aside.
“We don’t just purport,” he said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “That’s what that video is. This was taken from an American camera. … The world needs to unite against this threat from this Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Pompeo also defended his statement last week that Iran was behind a May 31 car bomb in Kabul as a U.S. military convoy was passing by, injuring four U.S. service members slightly and killing several Afghan civilians. Pompeo characterized the Taliban claim of responsibility as not credible.
“We have confidence that Iran instigated this attack,” he said. “I can’t share any more of the intelligence. But I wouldn’t have said it if the intelligence community hadn’t become convinced that this was the case.”
The rising tensions are feeding fears of a wider conflict.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned of the dangers of stumbling into war.
“We have absolutely no appetite for going to war, or to be provocative to create situations that might evoke responses, where mistakes could be made,” she said on CNN.
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg called for leaders to focus on de-escalating tensions and said the Trump administration’s “low” credibility has added to confusion about what happened.
“It’s a little distressing to think that because this administration’s credibility is so low in general, I think a lot of people are thinking twice at a moment when America’s word should be decisive,” the South Bend, Indiana, mayor said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“That being said, this is not inconsistent with Iranian behavior that has been aggressive and often malignant in the region. The real question is what can we do, given the facts on the ground, to ensure a measured response that will de-escalate, rather than inflame, tensions in the region?”
But Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the administration’s sharpest critics, called the U.S. evidence “strong and compelling,” saying on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that there’s “no question that Iran’s behind the attacks. …
“I think this is a Class A screw-up by Iran,” Schiff said. ” … I can imagine there’re some Iranian heads rolling from that botched operation.”
Pompeo bristled at the suggestion a credibility gap might make it more difficult to “sell” Americans into supporting a military confrontation.
“We’re not selling anything,” he said on “Face the Nation.” “These are simple facts. I’ve had many conversations over the past, frankly weeks, talking about Iran’s activity. No one doubts the data set.”
Pompeo said he United States will guarantee the safe transit of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.
“We’re going to guarantee the freedom of navigation through the straits,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is an international challenge. This is important to the entire globe. The United States is going to make sure that we take all actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, to achieve that outcome.”
Iran has denied any responsibility for the suspicious explosions on the tankers. Pompeo has said that Iran is conducting a number of attacks on U.S. allies and interests in an attempt to reverse the administration’s strategy of imposing an escalating series of sanctions to drive Iran’s oil exports to zero, That campaign will continue on the diplomatic and economic front, he said Sunday.
“President Trump has done everything he can to avoid war,” he said. “We don’t want war. We’ve done what we can to deter this. The Iranians shd understand very clearly that we will continue to take actions to deter Iran from engaging in this kind of behavior.”
Pompeo said he telephoned his counterparts around the world to stress the risk to the world’s oil supplies. But he sidestepped questions about sending more troops, ships, planes and submarines to the region.
“We’ve taken a handful of those actions to increase the opportunity to convince Iran that these actions aren’t in their best interest,” he said. “And it appears to be Iran that wants to escalate this conflict.”
Pompeo’s statements seem to echo the sentiments of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who in a story published Sunday called on the international community to take a “decisive stance” against what he called Iranian expansionism
Saudi Arabia “does not want a war in the region, but we will not hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty and our vital interests,” the crown prince said in an interview published Sunday by the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.
The crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s day-to-day ruler, did not offer new evidence of Iran’s culpability in the tanker attacks, according to a transcript of his interview. Saudi Arabia views Iran as its principal adversary in the Middle East, and the Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates and Israel, have been key supporters of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy against the Iranian government.
In the interview, Mohammed noted that the attack on the tankers on Thursday came on the same day that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Tehran in an effort to ease tensions. Iran “did not respect the prime minister as a guest during his visit, and in effect responded to his efforts by attacking the two oil tankers,” the crown prince said.
After Pompeo accused Iran of orchestrating Thursday’s attacks, the Department of Defense later released a video showing what it said was an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine – a naval mine that attaches to a target by magnet – from the side of the Kokuka Courageous, a Japanese-owned tanker.
But Japanese officials were unconvinced, Kyodo News said.
“The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” one unnamed senior government official was reported as saying. Japan has sought more concrete evidence through various channels, Kyodo reported.
The Japanese shipping company that owns the vessel cast doubt on the U.S. version of events on Friday, with the president of Kokuka Sangyo saying that the Filipino crew thought the ship had been attacked by “flying objects” rather than a mine.
The attack was an embarrassment to Abe, the Japanese prime minister, who was meeting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the same day. Afterward he described his meeting as “a major step forward toward securing peace and stability” in the region, but experts say he appeared to come away empty-handed.
The attacks have severely affected the prime minister’s reputation as he was trying to be a mediator between the United States and Iran, and the rhetoric out of Washington puts him in an awkward position.
“Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it,” a source close to the prime minister told the Kyodo news agency about Pompeo’s previous statements.
President Donald Trump and Abe spoke by phone Friday about the attacks and his trip, with the U.S. president thanking the Japanese leader “for his effort to facilitate communication with Iran,” the White House said.
After the call, Abe told reporters that Japan urged “all related countries” to avoid an accidental confrontation or doing anything that would raise tensions.
“Japan adamantly condemns the act that threatened a Japanese ship, no matter who attacked,” he said.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Carol Morello, Kareem Fahim, Simon Denyer