Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stood firm Sunday in his rhetoric about Iran, saying it is “unmistakable” that Tehran is responsible for what appeared to be attacks last week on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
“It’s unmistakable what happened here,” Pompeo told Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday.” “These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping on the freedom of navigation with the clear intent to deny transit through the Strait,“ referring to the Strait of Hormuz.
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The U.S. reaction to the incident has sparked concerns that the President Donald Trump and his administration are firmly on the path toward a war with Iran.
Pompeo on Thursday blamed Tehran for the attacks of two oil tankers. He said his accusation was based “on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed 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.”
On Sunday, Pompeo added that U.S. intelligence “has lots of data, lots of evidence,” that back up his claim.
“The world will come to see much of it, but the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks, as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world over the past 40 days,” he said.
The two ships attacked Thursday were the Kokuka Courageous (which is Japanese owned) and the Front Altair (which is Norwegian owned). Both ships were seen on fire, but neither ship sank and no one was killed.
On Sunday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia accused Iran of being behind the attacks on the vessels. However, Japanese crew members have said the vessels were hit by “flying objects,” not Iranian mines, as the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have said, and Japan has sought additional evidence on the incidents.
Pompeo said guaranteeing the ability to navigate freely through the strait where the oil tankers were hit is “an international challenge, important to the entire globe” and he is” confident that we will have partners that understand this threat.”
“Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, these countries are very dependent on freedom of navigation throughout these straits and I’m confident that when they see the risk some of the risk of their own economies and their own people and outrageous behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran, they will join us in the spirit,” he said.
Pompeo did not discuss specifics of what kinds of actions the U.S. is considering taking toward Iran, but emphasized that “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” and said that he and President Donald Trump “don’t want a war.” (Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement last year.)
“We’ve done what we can to deter this,” Pompeo said. “The Iranians should understand very clearly that we will continue to take actions that deter Iran from engaging in this kind of behavior.”
Pompeo later said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation that the United States was “prepared to do our part” to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, noting that China gets 80 percent of its oil through the maritime choke point.
“We always defend freedom of navigation,” he said.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) who sits on the Senate Armed Forces Committee was more blunt on CBS’ “Face the Nation.“ He said: “Unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Cotton added there was nothing that could more quickly incite the “fire and fury” of the U.S. military than attacking open navigation in the air and sea.
Some Democrats didn’t see the situation as being so clear cut.
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), also on “Face the Nation,” expressed skepticism about Pompeo and Trump’s apparent aversion to going to war.
Schiff said the administration’s constant antagonizing of Iran, through sanctions and bellicose rhetoric, has only poked the bear, dangerously escalating tensions. He added removal from the Iran nuclear deal has not made the United States any safer and that the recent attack on the ships was proof.
“The whole idea that somehow through this pressure campaign we were going to force Iran to capitulate … was dangerously naive,” Schiff said. “This was eminently foreseeable.”
Stating concerns about the nation being pushed “into what perhaps will be another war,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke also was critical of the U.S. approach in the Middle East.
“This president has made a mess of our foreign policy and has significantly diminished the national security of this country,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”