Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran for “unprovoked attacks” on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13.
The US had made its assessment based on intelligence about the type of weapons used, he said.
Dozens of crew members were rescued after the explosions at the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous and the Front Altair, owned by Norway.
Both Iran and the US said they evacuated the crew.
“It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks,” the secretary of state said at a news conference in Washington.
“This is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise need 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.”
“This is only the latest in the series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests.
“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Mike Pompeo said.
The blasts in one of the world’s busiest oil routes comes a month after four oil tankers were attacked off the United Arab Emirates.
No group or country has admitted the incident in May, which also caused no casualties.
The US at the time blamed Iran – but Tehran denied the accusations.
Oil prices jumped as much as 4% after the incident.
The Gulf of Oman lies at one end of the strategic Strait of Hormuz – a vital shipping lane through which hundreds of millions of dollars of oil pass.
The Norwegian Maritime Authority said that the Front Altair had been had been “attacked”, and that there were three blasts on board.
Wu I-fang, a spokesman for Taiwan’s CPC Corp oil refiner, which chartered the Front Altair, said it was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha and was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo”, although this has not been confirmed.
Other unverified reports suggested a mine attack.
The ship’s owner, Frontline, said the vessel was on fire – but denied reports in Iranian media that it had sunk.
The operator of the Kokuka Courageous, BSM Ship Management, said its crew abandoned ship and were rescued by a passing vessel.
The tanker was carrying methanol and was not in danger of sinking, a spokesman said.
It is currently located about 80 miles from Fujairah in the UAE and 16 miles from Iran. The cargo remains intact.
Pressure is growing on Saudi Arabia to explain what happened to Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met King Salman in Riyadh.
Jamal Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
Turkish officials believe the journalist was murdered by Saudi agents but the Saudis have denied this.
However, US media are reporting that the Saudis may be preparing to admit that Jamal Khashoggi died as a result of an interrogation that went wrong.
Overnight, Turkish police completed a search of the consulate after being admitted by Saudi authorities.
Mike Pompeo and King Salman have now met in Riyadh.
While much of what was discussed during has yet to be announced, the US State Department said that Mike Pompeo had used the time to thank the king for his “commitment to a thorough, transparent investigation” into Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The secretary of state was also expected to seek further clarification over a conversation between the king and President Donald Trump on October 15.
Tweeting earlier about the call, President Trump said: “Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!”
The president later told reporters: “The denial was very, very strong. It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”
There is a lot at stake given the strength of Saudi-US ties. President Trump has already ruled out cancelling a lucrative arms deal, although he did threaten “severe punishment” if the kingdom were found to be responsible for the death.
On October 15, King Salman ordered an investigation into the missing journalist. Saudi statements up to now have dismissed allegations of a killing as “baseless” and “lies”.
Mike Pompeo is also expected to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his day in Riyadh. The secretary of state may then head to Turkey.
The New York Times and on CNN reported, quoting unnamed sources, that Saudi Arabia would acknowledge that Jamal Khashoggi’s death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong and the intention had been only to abduct him from Turkey.
This may explain in part President Trump’s “rogue killers” line.
Who such killers could be and how it fits into reports of a Saudi team being dispatched to the consulate before Jamal Khashoggi’s arrival will presumably need to covered.
Jamal Khashoggi’s family in Saudi Arabia issued a statement calling for an “independent and impartial international commission”.
President Trump took a swipe at China in the second of three tweets on the issue.
He tweeted: “…Additionally, because of our much tougher Trading stance with China, I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were (despite the UN Sanctions which are in place)…”
China and the US are embroiled in a tit-for-tat tariff war after President Trump complained about the size of the US trade deficit with China and what Washington sees as other unfair trade practices.
However, only two days ago President Trump said China had been a “big help on North Korea”.
Mike Pompeo might still make another trip though.
President Trump tweeted: “…Secretary Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved. In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!”
After the optimism of Singapore, the latest development might seem like quite a change.
However, there have been ups and downs in the Trump-North Korea relationship since then.
After a visit by Mike Pompeo in July, North Korea condemned his “gangster-like demands”, only for another trip to be announced, albeit now cancelled.
The summit itself was called off in May – President Trump citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility” – only for it to take place after all.
The US has made clear that it wants to see an end to North Korea’s nuclear activities before it will consider lifting economic sanctions.
The summit was seen as possible turning point after a ratcheting up of tensions.
North Korea had carried out a sixth nuclear bomb test in September and boasted of its ability to launch a missile at the US.
North Korea has historically used its foreign prisoners as leverage in its diplomatic dealings.
One of the detainees was jailed in 2015, the other two have been in prison for just over a year. Their convictions have been widely condemned as political and an abuse of human rights.
The last American to be freed – Otto Warmbier, who was jailed for stealing a hotel sign – was released last year but was fatally ill, and died shortly after returning home. The cause of death remains unexplained.
Mike Pompeo said a “good relationship” was formed at the first meeting in April, which marked the highest level US contact with North Korea since 2000.
A state department official travelling with Mike Pompeo said the US would also be “listening for signs from North Korea that things have substantially changed” with the nation’s nuclear ambitions.
Last month, President Trump stunned the international community by accepting North Korea’s suggestion for direct talks – it will be an unprecedented move for a sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader.
President Trump referred to Mike Pompeo’s latest visit while announcing that the US was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran.
President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
Jeff Sessions, a former prosecutor, was turned down for a federal judgeship in 1986 because of alleged racist remarks.
Donald Trump has also nominated Mike Pompeo as CIA director and retired Lt-Gen Michael Flynn has been appointed national security adviser.
His latest picks were praised on Twitter by David Duke, former leader of the white supremacist KKK group.
In a statement, Donald Trump called Jeff Sessions a “world class legal mind”.
Image source Flickr
“Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him,” he added.
Jeff Sessions, 69, said in a statement that he “enthusiastically” embraced Donald Trump’s vision for “one America and his commitment to equal justice under law”.
“I look forward to fulfilling my duties with an unwavering dedication to fairness and impartiality,” he said.
Jeff Sessions and Gen. Michael Flynn, 57, have been close allies of Donald Trump since the early days of his campaign and share many of his views.
Jeff Sessions opposes any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and was an enthusiastic backer of Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
In 1986, Jeff Sessions was nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship, but was rejected because of allegations that he had made racist remarks. He strongly denied the claims.
Gen. Michael Flynn, a vocal critic of the Obama administration since he was ousted as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, agrees with Donald Trump on renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal, strengthening ties with Russia and intensifying the fight against Islamic extremists.
He once tweeted that fear of Muslims was “rational”.
Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, 52, is a supporter of the conservative Tea Party movement. He originally backed Marco Rubio as the Republican candidate but supported Donald Trump after he won the nomination.
Mike Pompeo has also been a fierce critic of Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, tweeting on November 17: “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”