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Pompeo Says Iran Is Responsible For Attacks On Oil Tankers In The Gulf Of Oman


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Iran is to blame for attacks today on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.


MIKE POMPEO: This assessment is based on 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.

CORNISH: Not only have tensions between the U.S. and Iran increased because of these attacks; oil prices have risen, too. We'll hear more about the impact on oil in a moment.

But first, we're going to start with NPR's Peter Kenyon. And Peter, tell us the latest about what happened to these two ships.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, the two tankers are still afloat, but they're evacuated now after suffering explosions and damage not far from the Strait of Hormuz there in the Persian Gulf. Today's events, following attacks that took place off the UAE coast last month, occurred after the White House ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to take up position outside the Strait of Hormuz.

So far, there's been speculation as to who carried out today's attacks. It's focused on either Iran or someone who wants to make it look like Iran. By way of denying all of that, Tehran has offered circumstantial evidence, mostly. The foreign minister took to Twitter to say he finds it suspicious that a Japanese ship should be attacked in the Gulf at the very time that Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran for meetings.

CORNISH: I want to get into the politics in a moment, but first, are the crews OK? Was there any loss of life?

KENYON: No loss of life. Everyone evacuated safely.

CORNISH: Now, as we heard earlier, Secretary Mike Pompeo talking about this - what were some of your takeaways from his speech?

KENYON: Well, he offered no evidence for his claim that Iran was behind this. He then went on to describe Iran's behavior as a major threat to regional and international security. But the main point I heard was that this was a diplomatic response, not anything more aggressive, not anything approaching military action. Of course, the State Department's job is to focus on the diplomatic response, so we'll have to see how things develop and what this promise of economic and diplomatic pressure really amounts to.

CORNISH: What set off this latest cycle of rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran?

KENYON: Well, there were comments from the administration a few weeks back that suggested Iran was plotting an actual attack on U.S. targets in the region. And they were warning, at that point, of a fierce response should that happen.

Of course, Trump has shifted away from the Obama administration's policy of talking with Iran in favor of using pressure against the regime, sanctions instead of negotiations in hopes of getting Iran back to the table to renegotiate a deal - a nuclear agreement - that Trump walked away from. Iran's leaders have said repeatedly that Iran isn't going to yield to pressure, that respect works better, as they put it. But the White House policy remains pressure.

CORNISH: You mentioned earlier the backdrop to this, which is that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Tehran for talks. Abe is known for being an ally of President Trump. Did this derail that meeting?

KENYON: Well, the meeting really didn't go so well. The trip didn't go as well as Abe was hoping. It was overshadowed by the events in the Gulf. There's no question about it.

He had several reasons for being there, but one of his stated goals was to find a way to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington. And instead, he watched those tensions ratchet up even further. And now Abe is among those world leaders who are warning that the way things are going, conflict could break out in the Middle East, even though both sides say they don't want it. And these concerns are certainly heightened today.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon. Peter, thank you for your reporting.

KENYON: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.