EU states cool on US blaming Iran for Gulf tanker attacks

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Luxembourg, Jun 17: European states on Monday urged caution in attributing blame for last week’s tanker attacks in the Gulf, pointedly refusing to fall in line with Washington’s assessment that Iran was behind the incidents.

Several EU foreign ministers arriving for talks in Luxembourg backed UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ call for an independent investigation into explosions that damaged two tankers sending tensions — and oil prices — soaring.

US President Donald Trump has said the Gulf of Oman attacks had Iran “written all over it” and Britain has concluded responsibility “almost certainly” lies with Tehran, but the EU has called for caution.

“We know the findings of the American and the British intelligence services, which assume that you can be almost certain. We are comparing this with our information. I think you have to proceed very, very carefully on this,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

His Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto said it was vital to have “the full evidence” before reaching conclusions.

“I support very much the line of the UN Secretary General Mr Guterres, that a proper investigation (to put) all the facts on the table and then we can look what really has happened, who is behind this,” he said.

“I think its a very very concerning event but let’s have all the details first.” Luxembourg’s foreign minister echoed his support for Guterres’ call, warning against repeating the diplomatic mis-steps that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I’m convinced, as I was 16 years ago, that you really shouldn’t make the mistake of believing that you can solve a problem in the Middle East with weapons,” Jean Asselborn said.

A senior EU official last week said the bloc needed time to analyse the events, insisting this did not mean “that we’re convinced or lack conviction” about the US assessment, which included video footage that Washington said showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an “unexploded limpet mine” from one of the damaged tankers.

The latest flare-up comes with the EU scrambling to save the Iran nuclear deal after Trump pulled the US out and reimposed tough sanctions on the Islamic republic.

The top official in the EU’s diplomatic service, Helga Schmid, made a whistle-stop tour of the region last week to gather information and press the bloc’s call for restraint and de-escalation.

Thursday’s attacks took place southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital corridor connecting the energy-rich states of the Middle East to the global market.

Iran, which is struggling with crippling US sanctions, has repeatedly warned in the past that it could block the strait in a relatively low-tech, high-impact counter measure to any attack by the United States.

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