Saudi paper, close to MBS, calls on United States to strike Iran

Sabotage attacks were carried out last week on oil-carrying vessels but many questions remain unanswered

On Tuesday, Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi rebels launched a coordinated drone attack on a critical oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, Tehran's biggest rival in the region.

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 USA has tightened sanctions against Iran, demanding it stop supporting paramilitary groups across the Middle East, including the Houthis.

Yemen's Health Ministry has raised the death toll from early morning airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, saying six people were killed, including four children. Also on Tuesday, a Houthi-run television station claimed responsibility for having conducted a "big military operation" using drones against Saudi installations. Aaron David Miller an American Middle East analyst said on Twitter: "Saudi paper close to MBS urges United States surgical strikes against Iran". A high-ranking British general said there was no new threat from Iran or its regional proxies, something immediately rebutted by the US military's Central Command, which said its troops were on high alert, without elaborating.

A spokesman for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations insisted Thursday that Tehran poses no threat and has no intention of attacking USA assets.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spent the week touring Asia to drum up economic and political support.

Donald Trump dismissed claims that the USA was spoiling for a war, and said on Twitter that Iran would be willing to negotiate "soon".

Iran "does not seek clashes in the region", Zarif said in an interview with Iranian state television during his Japan trip, "but it has always defended its interests forcefully and will continue to do so now".

Despite attempts to calm the rhetoric about a potential conflict, on Wednesday, the US State Department ordered all "non-emergency US government employees" to leave Iraq; German and Dutch armed forces suspended training operations in Iraq.

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Meanwhile, relations between the U.S. 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.

The rebels said May 14's attacks were a response to "crimes" committed by Saudi Arabia during its bloody air war in Yemen, that has been criticised repeatedly by the United Nations and human rights groups. The U.S. Consulate in Basra has been closed since September following a rocket attack blamed on Iranian-backed militias.

A senior British officer in the US -backed coalition fighting the Islamic State group appeared to push back against the USA claims, telling reporters earlier in the week that there'd been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. Maj.

Details remain unclear around alleged acts of sabotage to four oil tankers, including two belonging to Saudi Arabia, off the coast of the UAE's port of Fujairah. Gen. Chris Ghika's comments exposed global skepticism over the American military buildup. That includes those working at the U.S. Consulate in Irbil.

Though Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, scientists say the time needed to reach the 90 percent threshold for weapons-grade uranium is halved once uranium is enriched to around 20%.

Some observers speculate Tehran is seeking to retaliate over Washington's decision in April to put Iran's Revolutionary Guards on a terror blacklist - a move created to stymie their activities across the Middle East.

In a joint letter to the U.N. Security Council, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Norway said that while the alleged sabotage targeted four ships, "the attacks damaged the hulls of at least three".

The Qatar-funded satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera says that Doha is trying to "defuse escalating tensions" across the Persian Gulf.

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