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Pompeo vows US will guarantee ships passage through Strait of Hormuz

Trump administration's struggle to convince allies Iran attacked tankers shows how isolated US has become, Democrat Congressman Schiff says
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Thursday it was assessment of US that Iran attacked tankers in Gulf of Oman (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed on Sunday that the US will guarantee free passage through the vital Strait of Hormuz, as he accused Iran of recent attacks on oil tankers and the downing of a US drone.

Pompeo confirmed in an interview with CBS that a US MQ-9 "Reaper" drone was downed on 6 June by a missile fired from Yemen "that we assess had Iranian assistance".

Pompeo would not be drawn on what options the US is considering to protect shipping - or to punish Iran - in the wake of last Thursday's attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, but reiterated that President Donald Trump is not seeking war with Iran, AFP reported.

"What you should assume is we are going to guarantee freedom of navigation throughout the strait," he said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

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Iran has denied the US charges as "baseless" and said they were made without "a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence".

A third of the world's seaborne oil supply passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel bordered to the north by Iran.

The Pentagon last week released a video showing what it said was an Iranian boat that pulled up alongside one of the stricken tankers and removed a limpet mine attached to its hull.

Adam Schiff, head of the House Intelligence Committee and a leading Democratic critic of the administration, said the evidence of Iranian involvement "is very strong and compelling".

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"And in fact, I think this was a Class-A screw-up by Iran to insert a mine on the ship," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"It didn't detonate, they had to go back and retrieve it. I can imagine there are some Iranian heads rolling from that botched operation," he said.

The administration's struggle to persuade its allies, however, "shows just how isolated the United States has become", Schiff added.

Pompeo said the US is discussing a possible international response, saying he had made a number of calls to foreign officials on Saturday regarding the attacks, Reuters reported.

He cited China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia as countries that rely heavily on freedom of navigation through the strait. "I'm confident that when they see the risk, the risk of their own economies and their own people and outrageous behaviour of the Islamic Republic of Iran, they will join us in this."

The rising tensions have raised fears of an outbreak of hostilities in the tinderbox region.

"We don't want a war. We've done what we can to deter this," Pompeo said. "The Iranians should understand very clearly that we will continue to take actions that deter Iran from engaging in this ... kind of behaviour."

The secretary would not lay out further US evidence for Iran's involvement in the Gulf of Oman explosions but insisted: "It's unmistakable what happened here. 

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"These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping, on the freedom of navigation, with the clear intent to deny transit through the strait."

Some allies, sceptical of US intentions, have said they wanted to see more evidence before reaching a conclusion.

"I will concede that there are countries that wish this would just go away," Pompeo said.

He expressed confidence that "as we continue to develop the fact pattern, countries around the world will not only accept the basic facts, which I think are indisputable, but will come to understand that this is an important mission for the world."

Some conservative congressional Republicans on Sunday called on the Trump administration to take a tough stance.

Senator Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, told CBS: "Unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike" that he said Trump already is authorised to launch under US law.

Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House of Representatives Republican, said the White House had been briefing Congress on Iran. "We don't want to see it escalate to where it is a military operation," he told NBC's "Meet the Press," adding: "But we have to stand up to Iran."