Saudis accuse Iran of ordering Yemen rebel oil attack

Mysterious ‘sabotage attacks’ on ships near the Emirati port of Fujairah sparked heightened tensions in the Gulf

Iran's foreign minister on Thursday slammed mounting USA sanctions imposed on Tehran by the Trump administration as "unacceptable", even as he insisted that his country is committed to an worldwide nuclear deal that has steadily unraveled amid rising tensions in the Mideast.

A Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdul Salam had earlier claimed responsibility for the drone strikes, saying that they were a response to Saudi Arabia's "continued aggression" and "genocide" in Yemen.

This comes after President Donald Trump told acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday that he does not want the United States to go to war with Iran. In response, Iran's supreme leader issued a veiled threat Tuesday, saying it wouldn't be hard for the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.

The movement of diplomatic personnel is often done in times of conflict, but what is driving the decisions from the White House remains unclear. The U.S. military's Central Command said its troops were on high alert, without elaborating.

The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S. The U.S. Consulate in Basra has been closed since September following a rocket attack blamed on Iranian-backed militias.

Meanwhile, relations between the USA and Iran have continued to deteriorate as Washington sent an aircraft carrier strike group close to Iran's borders amid reports that the Pentagon plans to deploy up to 120,000 troops to the region to restrain what it describes as a threat emanating from Tehran which denies the allegations. Germany and the Netherlands both suspended their military assistance programs in the country in the latest sign of tensions. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said the German government has not reduced its embassy staff in Iraq or Iran. It said the Dutch forces primarily train Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State militants.

Speaking about Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, Zarif was quoted as also saying: "A multilateral deal can not be treated unilaterally".

Iran recently said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached by 7 July.

Opponents of Trump say hardliners led by national security advisor John Bolton, who has long advocated toppling the Iranian government, are pushing the country into war. Earlier, the United States sent an aircraft carrier and bomber task force to the Persian Gulf to send "a clear and unmistakable message" to Iran. This attack by armed drones, videos of which surfaced on Thursday, spurred a temporary shutdown of the pipeline and a consequent rise in global oil prices, though Saudi Aramco confirmed that the pipeline had been restored as of Wednesday. Benchmark Brent crude rose to $72 a barrel in trading Wednesday, an increase of over 1%.

Pakistan also has close ties with Saudi Arabia and it maintains a balancing act between Riyadh and Tehran.

The Houthi attacks on two Aramco oil pumping stations forced an important east-west pipeline in the kingdom to close and added to friction in the Gulf, where the US has tightened sanctions against Iran, demanding it stop supporting paramilitary groups across the Middle East, including the Houthis. Witnesses said houses had been damaged in the raids and that people lifted a body out of the rubble of one home. Indeed, on Tuesday, the same day as the drone attacks, United Nations officials confirmed completion of the first phase of redeploying Houthi forces away from Hodeidah and other ports, as part of a UN-brokered agreement, meaning that the Houthis would have jeopardised a potential settlement to disrupt Saudi oil transport for one day.

Sky News is reporting that the United Kingdom has raised the threat level for British personnel in Iraq because of a heightened risk from Iran.

The MT Andrea Victory, one of the alleged targets, sustained a hole in its hull just above its waterline from "an unknown object", its owner Thome Ship Management said in a statement. Images of the Norwegian ship, which the company said was "not in any danger of sinking", showed damage similar to what the firm described.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, has said the other three showed damage as well. He declined to blame Iran directly, although he repeatedly criticised Tehran. "Neither we nor them (the US) seek war", he said.

Ravanchi said: "We are not interested in the escalation of tensions in our region".

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