US and allies set to present ‘evidence’ of Iran attacks in Middle East, as Bolton denies policy rift with Trump

Ahead of Trump’s visit to UK next week, John Bolton, the national security adviser, doubles down on Iran hard talk, but denies seeking regime change in Tehran

Kim Sengupta
Diplomatic Editor
Thursday 30 May 2019 18:05
Mr Bolton claimed in Abu Dhabi, on his way to London, that it was ‘clear that Iran is behind’ the attacks on the tankers
Mr Bolton claimed in Abu Dhabi, on his way to London, that it was ‘clear that Iran is behind’ the attacks on the tankers

America and its allies in the Middle East are planning to present evidence of Iranian complicity in the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf to the United Nations Security Council, according to John Bolton, the US national security adviser.

Speaking in London before Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK next week, Mr Bolton warned that the “threat was not over” from Iran and that the country “will be held accountable”.

“There will be strong response” to any further acts of violence, he added. He accused Tehran of involvement either directly, or through proxy forces, in carrying out attacks on international shipping, oil pipelines and port facilities in neighbouring countries.

Mr Bolton made his charge amid rising tension in the region after the US dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers and ordered the deployment of additional ground troops.

It also comes during continuing friction between the Trump administration and western allies, including Britain, over the Iran nuclear deal.

Mr Bolton claimed in Abu Dhabi, on his way to London, that it was “clear that Iran is behind” the attacks on the tankers and that “naval mines almost certainly from Iran” caused the damage to the ships.

Tehran has described the charges as “ludicrous,” with the Foreign Ministry declaring that “Iran’s strategic patience, vigilance [and] defensive prowess will defuse mischievous plots made by Bolton and other warmongers”.

Mr Bolton has called for regime change in Tehran on numerous occasions in the past, as the Iranian government of Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly pointed out. President Trump stated earlier this year that the US was not seeking regime change and repeated calls for talks with the leadership in Tehran.

Asked whether he was at odds with the president on this issue of regime change, Mr Bolton said that “before I became national security advisor I said and wrote a lot of things on every subject. I believed what I wrote then and I still do. But I am national security adviser, not national security decision maker.

“The policy we are pursuing is not a policy of regime change, that’s a fact and everybody should understand that.”

However Mr Bolton went on to accuse Iran of involvement in the tanker assaults, adding that “there is some prospect that evidence of this will be presented to the Security Council next week”.

“There are a series of meetings under way on this in Saudi Arabia, the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation ... I don’t think there’s anybody who is familiar with the situation in the region and have examined the evidence can come to any other conclusion that these attacks were carried out by Iran and its surrogates.

“We are looking at all the evidence and we are looking at it in a responsible and prudent fashion ... We say there is a lot of activity that goes on in that part of the world which is attributable to Iran because of their prior conduct, because of their statements and because of information that comes into our possession which I am not going to discuss further.”

Mr Bolton accused Iran of direct and indirect culpability.

“When the Houthis use drones or ballistic missiles, they don’t make them, they get them from somewhere.

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“I think it’s fair to hold Iran accountable even without more information because of the foreseeable consequences of giving such weapons to the Houthis. In terms of attacks on pipelines, it’s possible the Houthis did it, or it came from somewhere else too, more directly from Iran,” he said.

The Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group, claimed responsibility for an attack on a Saudi oil pipeline in mid-May.

Differences remained, Mr Bolton acknowledged, between the US and its allies over the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran.

The other international signatories – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – as well as the UN and EU insist that Tehran has adhered to its obligations and are attempting to save the agreement which they say has stopped Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

The European Union is putting together a financial programme which seeks to enable businesses to trade with Iran in the face of US sanctions.

Mr Bolton held up the possibility that Britain’s position on supporting the programme may change after Brexit. “By definition as an independent country you can make up your own policy – it’s different once you are outside the European Union,” he said.

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