Mystery shrouds 'sabotage' of oil tankers in tense Gulf

President Donald Trump

The Times report on Bolton's plan, which one critic described as "disturbing", comes just over a week after the national security adviser used the routine deployment of a USA aircraft carrier and bomber task force to threaten Iran with military action.

Saudi Arabia said Monday that two of its oil tankers had been sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, in attacks it described as posing a threat to the security of global oil supplies.

Saudi Arabia offered no immediate confirmation of the report.

"Pompeo made the unscheduled stop in Brussels because Iran is an escalating threat and this seemed like a timely visit on his way to Sochi, Russia", Al Jazeera quoted Brian Hook, US special envoy for Iran, as saying.

"We raised concerns over the suspicious activities and sabotage that are happening in our region".

The US's ambassador to Saudi Arabia urged a response short of war to Sunday's attacks, after a thorough investigation.

This risk, she says, is heightened by the possibility that militant groups aligned with Iran, but not directly controlled by the government, might stage an attack that leads to a US response.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared information on "escalating" threats from Iran during meetings with European Union counterparts and the head of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Brussels, the U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook told reporters.

"There won't be any war". But, like Pompeo, Khamenei stopped short of saying Iran is now seeking a resolution to the tensions.

The assaults marked the latest incidents challenging Mideast security after the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates earlier this week amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.

In Europe, there are concerns that the USA and Iran could stumble into a military confrontation.

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"I think the talk of explosions in Fujairah is just a hasty scenario and it suffers many shortcomings".

Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement late Monday that Bolton "is methodically setting the stage for war with Iran-forcing Iran into a corner and then readying war plans for when Iran takes the bait".

Iran-backed rebels have claimed responsibility for an attack using drones laden with explosives against crucial Saudi oil infrastructure in an incident described by Riyadh as terrorism. "Since early May, there is an increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against USA and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz", the warning read.

An unnamed U.S. official familiar with American intelligence told Reuters news agency that Iran was a prime suspect in Sunday's sabotage off the UAE coast, although Washington had no conclusive proof.

The Kingdom condemned Tuesday's attack and the recent attacks on ships in the Arabian Gulf, threatening oil output - Al-Falih said the Kingdom saw the attacks as a cowardly act of terror aimed at destruction.

National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (Bahri) did not respond to a request for comment.

Tensions have risen since Trump withdrew America from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and restored US sanctions that have pushed Iran's economy into crisis. The White House says that a potential "attack on U.S. interests" will be deterred by amassing forces in the Persian Gulf.

"It's fake news, OK?" Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. We are going to zero.

"It's going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens", the president told reporters on Monday.

The spike in tensions comes a week after Iran announced it was suspending some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement, one year after Trump withdrew from the accord and slapped tough sanctions on the Islamic republic.

Analysts believe Iran's strategy in the region is based around support for local militant groups fighting in domestic causes that Tehran can ultimately steer toward supporting its own goals: defeating Saudi Arabia and undermining US influence in the Middle East.

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