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US escalates pressure on UN allies to blame Iran for tanker attacks

In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command, damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman on June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, not pictured, approaches the damaged ship.

PROVIDED BY U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND

By DAVID WAINER | Bloomberg | Published: June 28, 2019

The U.S. is pressing United Nations Security Council members to publicly back its assertion that Iran was behind a spate of attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf in recent weeks, providing a new report to make its case.

The U.S. concluded "with a high degree of confidence that Iran was responsible" for the attacks on May 12 and June 13, Acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen wrote in a letter Thursday to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres alongside a summary of initial findings. Iran has denied it's to blame.

The American assessment "is based on intelligence, the weapons and tactics used in the attacks and the fact that no proxy in the region has the capabilities," according to the summary seen by Bloomberg News. While a "high degree of confidence" is a term used by U.S. intelligence agencies, the summary didn't specify that the agencies had made that finding themselves.

While the U.K., Germany and Saudi Arabia have agreed that Iran was probably behind the attacks, other U.S. allies have stopped short of publicly blaming the Islamic Republic. The United Arab Emirates appeared to distance itself from the U.S. claims on Wednesday, and an investigation that the U.A.E. carried out with Norway and Saudi Arabia didn't single out any nation, concluding only that a "state actor" was probably behind the incident in May.

The U.S. is trying to rally countries to its side at the U.N., where most members blame the Trump administration for stoking tensions by abandoning the multinational nuclear deal with Iran last year and applying renewed sanctions on the Iranian economy. Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday that the administration will pursue its "maximum-pressure" campaign against Tehran while offering a chance for talks on an accord that would go beyond the landmark 2015 pact.

Tensions spiked in the Gulf in May, when the U.S. revoked waivers on the import of Iranian oil, further squeezing its economy. The spate of attacks on tankers came after Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned in late April that there would be consequences for the U.S. trying to block Iran from selling its oil.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps probably conducted the attacks on oil tankers in the vicinity of Fujairah in a matter of 53 minutes, the U.S. said in the summary of its findings. It said the most convincing piece of information came from the USS Mason, which spotted 20 IRGC fastboats traveling from the Iranian side of the Strait of Hormuz into U.A.E. territorial waters hours before the attacks.

Limpet mines — which usually attach to ships by magnets — were used in both the May and June attacks, and the U.S. concluded the mines were of Iranian origin and design. It said the mines used in the attack on the tanker Kokuka Courageou is unique in structure when compared to the international inventory of the mines and bears a "striking resemblance" to Iranian-made devices.

The U.S. also included a flight map of an American drone that was shot down by Iran this month. While Iran said the drone was above its territory, the U.S. map showed it traveling in international airspace.

"Given this compelling evidence, we call on council members to join us in attributing these attacks to Iran," the U.S. said.

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