Saudi crown prince lashes out at Iran over tanker attacks

Updated June 16, 2019

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. — Reuters/File
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. — Reuters/File

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused arch-rival Iran of attacks on oil tankers in a vital Gulf shipping channel, adding he “won't hesitate” to tackle any threats to the kingdom, according to an interview published on Sunday.

Two tankers were struck by explosions on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, the second attack in a month in the strategic shipping lane amid a tense United States-Iran standoff, sparking fears of a regional conflagration and sending oil prices soaring.

“We do not want a war in the region... But we won't hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our vital interests,” Prince Mohammed told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, in his first public comments since the attacks.

“The Iranian regime did not respect the presence of the Japanese prime minister as a guest in Tehran and responded to his (diplomatic) efforts by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese.”

The prince also accused “Iran and its proxies” over May 12 attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah.

Thursday's attack on two tankers — the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous that was carrying highly flammable methanol when it was rocked by explosions and the Norwegian-operated Front Altair — came around the time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting with Iranian leaders in Tehran.

US President Donald Trump has said the twin attacks had Iran “written all over it”, rejecting Tehran's vehement denial.

Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, is a bitter regional rival of Iran.

The US military on Friday released grainy footage it said showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an “unexploded limpet mine” from one of the tankers.

The UAE's Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Saturday called on world powers “to secure international navigation and access to energy”, a plea echoed by regional ally Saudi Arabia after the incident sent crude prices soaring.

Iran has repeatedly warned in the past that it could block the strategic Hormuz Strait in a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure to any attack by the US.

Doing so would disrupt oil tankers travelling out of the Gulf region to the Indian Ocean and global export routes.

The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah, whose country is bitterly opposed to Iranian influence in the region, called for a de-escalation of tensions. “We remain hopeful in attaining a broader framework for cooperation with Iran,” he said at a summit in Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih called for a “swift and decisive” response to threats against energy supplies after Thursday's “terrorist acts”.

Saudi crown prince warns against 'exploiting' Khashoggi murder

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned against “exploiting” the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for political gains, in what appeared to be a veiled attack on Turkey.

Turkey's ties with Saudi Arabia have come under strain since the brutal murder last October of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which tarnished the international reputation of the crown prince.

Turkish officials were the first to report the murder and have continued to press Saudi Arabia for information on the whereabouts of his dismembered body, which has yet to be found.

“The death of Jamal Khashoggi is a very painful crime,” Prince Mohammed told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat in an interview published on Sunday.

“Any party exploiting the case politically should stop doing so, and present evidence to the [Saudi] court, which will contribute in achieving justice,” he added, without directly naming Turkey.

The prince, however, added that he wants strong relations with “all Islamic countries including Turkey”.

The CIA has reportedly said the murder was likely ordered by Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler and heir to the Arab world's most powerful throne.

Saudi authorities strongly deny the allegation.

Saudi prosecutors have absolved the prince and said around two dozen people implicated in the murder are in custody, with death penalties sought against five men. Khashoggi, a US resident, had written critically of Prince Mohammed and was killed in what Riyadh described as a rogue operation.

Prince Mohammed said the kingdom was committed to “full justice and accountability” in the case, as he faces international pressure to punish the culprits.