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Escalating tensions put U.S. and Iran on collision course, experts fear

 

Iran and the U.S. have sent mixed messages at different moments, but neither side appears ready to make major concessions in the showdown.

Attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman have sent tensions soaring between Iran and the United States, and reinforced fears that the two countries could be hurtling toward an unintended war.

Hours after the explosions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the incident as a “blatant assault” and said the U.S. had concluded Iran was responsible for targeting the Norwegian-owned and Japanese-owned ships along the vital oil transit route near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Pompeo cited intelligence reporting, recent similar incidents and the sophisticated nature of the attacks.

Pompeo said a previous attack against four ships last month off the coast of the United Arab Emirates that Washington blamed on Tehran, a drone attack on a Saudi pipeline, a rocket attack near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and other strikes were allegedly part of a deliberate pattern of “aggression.”

“Taken as a whole these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran,” Pompeo said.

Iran denied any role in the attacks. But Pompeo said Tehran was retaliating because of crippling U.S. economic sanctions that have slashed Iran’s oil exports and severely damaged its economy.

“Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted,” he said.

The incident coincided with a spate of mixed messages from both countries, which former officials said added to the danger that each country could be misreading the other.

Although President Donald Trump has imposed punishing sanctions on Iran since pulling the U.S. out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, he has also repeatedly said he is open to talking to the country’s leaders. Read more

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