TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran on Friday warned the U.S. to stop playing a blame game through "suspicious" attacks on oil tankers in the Middle East, describing the American behavior as "worrying".
The stern warning by Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offhandedly blamed Tehran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday.
"The suspicious nature of incidents for oil tankers is not a joke. It is not only not funny, but it is also worrying and alarming," Mousavi said in a statement.
The attacks on Thursday morning sent shock waves through the world which was awaiting the news of a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
Pompeo said immediately, "It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today.”
"It seems that for Mr Pompeo and other American statesmen, accusing Iran in the suspicious and unfortunate incident for tankers is the most convenient and simplistic job," Mousavi said.
"While Japan's prime minister is meeting with the number one figure of the Islamic Republic of Iran to reduce tensions, which clandestine hands seek to undermine these efforts in the region and who benefit from it?" he added.
The spokesman reminded that Iran was the first country to come to help the ships in distress and save their crew as quick as possible.
"The responsibility for ensuring the security of the Strait of Hormuz lies with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we have shown that we have been able to help the sailors of the crashed ships and rescue them as quickly as possible."
Earlier on Friday, Iran's Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif rebuffed Pompeo's allegations, saying they were part of the "sabotage diplomacy” pushed by the "B-Team".
"That the U.S. immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence—only makes it abundantly clear that the B-Team is moving to a Plan B: Sabotage diplomacy—including by its Economic Terrorism against Iran.”
The B-Team is a reference to hawkish U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, Zionist PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In a follow-up Twitter post, Zarif said, "I warned of exactly this scenario a few months ago, not because I'm clairvoyant, but because I recognize where the B-Team is coming from.”
The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday and discussed the attacks at the request of the United States.
Washington's assessment, however, was not shared by other council members, who noted that there was no clear evidence linking Tehran to the attacks, diplomats said.
The Iranian mission to the UN, meanwhile, rejected the "unfounded" U.S. accusations.
"Neither fabrications and disinformation campaigns nor shamelessly blaming others can change the realities. The US and its regional allies must stop warmongering and put an end to mischievous plots as well as false flag operations in the region.”
Late Thursday, the U.S. military released a grainy video that it claimed showed an Iranian navy boat removing an unexploded mine attached to the hull of the Japanese-owned tanker Kokura Courageous attacked in the Gulf of Oman.
The video was released by the U.S. Central Command, purportedly showing "Iranian sailors" removing a mine from the Kokura Courageous' hull.
In the video, a smaller boat is shown coming up to the side of the Japanese-owned tanker. An individual stands up on the bow of the boat and can be seen removing an object from the tanker's hull.
The U.S. claims that the object is likely an unexploded mine.
The U.S. military said its destroyer USS Bainbridge, as well as a U.S. drone and P-8 aircraft, had been on the scene for four hours before the alleged Iranian boat arrived. U.S. defense officials claimed that the Iranians were seeking to recover evidence of their involvement in the attack.
The Japanese ship operator on Friday disputed the U.S. claims, saying its sailors on board the Kokuka Courageous saw "flying objects" just before the attack, suggesting the tanker wasn't damaged by mines.
"The crew told us something came flying at the ship, and they found a hole," President Yutaka Katada of Kokuka Sangyo told a press conference in Tokyo. "Then some crew witnessed the second shot."
Social media users also challenged the U.S. video, saying its low-quality did not indicate either the country to which the boat and its crew belonged or the purpose of what they apparently did.
"Remember how they had Colin Powell bring the white powder to the UN? That was a professional job. This is just embarrassing,” one user, going by the name of Barney, wrote.
"Right and further, why would they return to remove an unexploded mine? How would they know it was unexploded? Plus, they have footage from daytime of things on fire. When was this reported situation happening? They removed an unexploded mine and left another to explode in the day?” another user, Odette Roulette, responded.
The footage was released a few hours after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the attacks without providing evidence.
The attacks came as the world was awaiting the news of a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei in Tehran.
Iranian rescuers were the first to rush to the assistance of the two oil tankers after they sent a distress call, transferring all of their 44 crew members to Iran's southern shores.
Jon Alterman of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "There is always the possibility that somebody is trying to blame the Iranians."
"But there is the greater likelihood that this represents an effort" to create a perceived international urgency to have the United States and Iran talk, he added.
The attacks surprisingly coincided with Ayatollah Khamenei dismissing any negotiation between Iran and the U.S. during a meeting with Prime Minister Abe and refusing to accept any message from Trump.
Trump said on Friday he was ready to launch talks with Iran whenever it was ready, even as he blamed Tehran for the attacks.
"We want to get them back to the table,” Trump told Fox News in an interview. "I’m ready when they are,” adding that he was in "no rush.”
Last month, a senior Pentagon official accused Iran of having sabotaged four oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on May 12 and of firing a rocket into Baghdad’s Green Zone on May 19.
But instead of creating sensational headlines, the briefing by Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, was a flop, because it was clear to reporters covering it that he could not cite a single fact to back it up.
The story got only the most cursory coverage in major news outlets, all of which buried Gilday’s accusation deep in stories about the announced deployment of 1,500 more U.S. troops to the Middle East.