Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said there is video footage of an Iranian tanker being hit by at least two rockets in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia.
His comments on Monday came during a wide-ranging press conference in which Rouhani also addressed Turkey’s ongoing offensive in Syria, the year-long war in Yemen and the crumbling 2015 nuclear deal.
Authorities in Tehran had said that the Iranian-owned oil tanker, the Sabiti, was struck on Friday. However, there has been no independent report on the cause of the damage.
During the news conference, which was broadcast on Iranian state television, Rouhani said that footage of the alleged attack existed – even though it has not yet been released.
Rouhani added that a government was behind the hit and warned that there would be consequences.
“It wasn’t an act by terrorists, by an individual, a group. It was done by a government,” Rouhani said. “It was a hostile and treacherous act.”
Images previously released by the tanker’s owner, the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), showed two holes above the waterline on the ship’s starboard side. They are dated Sunday.
The NITC said the alleged attack occurred 100km (60 miles) from the Saudi port of Jeddah.
The incident caused oil to spill from the tanker into the Red Sea, the company said, before it was eventually controlled and the vessel began slowly moving back towards Gulf waters.
Saudi Arabia has said it was not behind any attack on the tanker. The kingdom’s authorities said they received a distress message from the vessel, but they added that it had switched off its transponder before they could assist.
The claim could prove to be the most recent escalation in Iran’s continued stand-off with Western powers and regional foes.
2015 nuclear accord
The events that lead to the current state of tense affairs largely began when US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear accord signed between Iran and world powers – under the landmark deal, Tehran pledged to curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
Following Trump’s unilateral move, Iran has since gradually backed away from its commitments while the US has ratcheted up a campaign of “maximum pressure” sanctions against it. Meanwhile, European signatories to the deal have attempted to find ways to compensate for the sanctions, they have largely come up short.
During the press conference on Monday, Rouhani said that Iran would continue to pull back from commitments to the nuclear agreement, announcing his country would begin working with advanced IR-7 and IR-9 centrifuges.
It is unclear what those centrifuges can do, though Iran has a host of advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium more rapidly than those allowed under the accord.
“The European countries have failed to fulfil their promises. We will continue to decrease our nuclear commitments,” Rouhani said. “We will start working on IR-7 and IR-9 centrifuges.”
Strait of Hormuz
In May, tensions began to rise over the Strait of Hormuz, an important trade waterway in the Gulf through which an estimated one-fifth of the world’s oil supply is transported.
At the time, Washington accused Tehran of being behind a series of suspected sabotage attacks on tankers in the strategic oil chokepoint. Weeks later, the US said Iran had shot down a US drone flying over international waters. Iran has contended the aircraft was flying in Iranian airspace.
In early July, British Royal Marines stopped a supertanker accused of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions, a move described by Iran as “piracy”.
Later in July, Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, accusing the ship of violating international law. Both ships have since been released.
Meanwhile, the US, who has gradually increased its military presence in the region, has launched a US-led maritime security mission in the Strait of Hormuz, which officials say is meant to “combat Iranian aggression”. The United Kingdom and Australia have since joined the mission.
Yemen’s Civil War
On September 14, two facilities run by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company Aramco were attacked in pre-dawn strikes, knocking out more than half of crude output from the world’s top exporter.
While Houthi rebels, who have been fighting a Saudi-led coaltion in Yemen since 2016, claimed responsibility for the attacks, Washington and Riyadh said Tehran was responsible. That claim was soon bolstered by the UK, France and Germany, who have been trying to salvage the nuclear deal with Iran.
The US, who back the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, have long accused Iran of arming the Houthis. While Tehran says they diplomatically back the rebel movement, they have repeatedly denied providing weapons.
On Monday, Rouhani said that finding a solution to the conflict in Yemen could help reduce tensions in the region, which could be further resolved through diplomacy.
“Ending the war in Yemen will pave the ground for de-escalation in the region,” Rouhani said, adding it could also “eventually lead to de-escalation between Iran and Saudi Arabia”.
“We want peace and calm in the region … regional crisis can be resolved through diplomacy and cooperation between the regional countries,” he said.
US withdrawal from Syria
Addressing the ongoing developments in northeastern Syria, where Turkey has been leading a military offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Rouhani urged Turkey to halt its operation.
“We do not accept the method that they have chosen,” Rouhani said in his first direct comment on the offensive.
Along with Russia, Iran has been a staunch military supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s eight-year war.
Last week, Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from the northeast region of Syria, clearing the way for the Turkish offensive in the region. Ankara wants to clear the border region of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who it considers a “terrorist” organisation. The YPG spearhead the SDF.
In a surprise move on Sunday, the Kurdish administration in northern Syria announced a deal with the al-Assad government on a Syrian troop deployment near the border with Turkey to confront Ankara’s offensive.