MIDDLE EAST

UAE says comitted to de-escalation after tanker attacks

UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash gives a press conference in Dubai on May 15, 2019. (AFP Photo)

The United Arab Emirates will show restraint after attacks on oil tankers off its coast and is committed to de-escalation during a "difficult situation" caused by Iranian behavior in the region, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said he would not speculate about who was behind Sunday's sabotage acts on four vessels, including two Saudi tankers, near Fujairah emirate while an investigation was underway and due to be completed within days.

"We need to emphasize caution and good judgment. It is easy to throw accusations but it is a difficult situation, there are serious issues and among them is Iranian behavior," he said, mentioning concern about Iran's missiles and regional policy.

Iran has distanced itself from the attack off Fujairah, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz. U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have been behind it, a U.S. official has said.

Gargash said the attack took place in UAE territorial waters but declined to comment on whether the OPEC producer and regional trading hub was beefing up security after the incident.

Saudi Arabia shared the concerns of its fellow Sunni Muslim ally that Shi'ite Iran has for a long time been undermining stability in the region, he said, and the United States' commitment to its allies in the region is "very strong".

"U.S. sanctions on Iran are biting, and biting in a very effective way," Gargash said.

The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington's decision this month to try to cut Iran's oil exports to zero and to beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats.

Yemen's Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for the strikes and said they were in response to "crimes" committed by Saudi Arabia and its allies during more than four years of war in support of the government.

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition battling the Huthis in Yemen.

"We will retaliate and we will retaliate hard when we see Huthis hitting civilian targets like what happened in Saudi Arabia," Gargash said Wednesday.

OPEC giant Saudi Arabia currently pumps around 10 million barrels per day of which around seven million are exported.

At present, most Saudi exports are loaded onto tankers at terminals on the kingdom's Gulf coast and must pass through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in case of a military confrontation with the United States.

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