The Latest: Iran urges regional dialogue to ease tensions

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An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, Thursday, June 13, 2019. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on Thursday, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. (AP Photo/ISNA)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on Mideast developments amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region (all times local):

3:55 p.m.

Iran’s U.N. Mission is calling for an urgent dialogue among all countries in the Persian Gulf region to ease tensions following attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

A statement late Thursday from the mission also called on the international community to prevent “the reckless and dangerous policies and practices of the U.S. and its regional allies in heightening the tensions in the region.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran reiterates that the only solution to the tension in this region is the active and constructive engagement of all regional countries within the context of a genuine dialogue based on mutual respect, inclusivity and basic principles of international law,” it said.

The mission said it is “ironic” that the United States, which unlawfully withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, is now calling on the country to come back to negotiations.

It dismissed as “inflammatory” acting U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen’s statement after a closed U.N. Security Council meeting on the tanker attacks Thursday afternoon that Iran should meet the United States with diplomacy — “not with terror, attacks on ships, infrastructure and diplomatic facilities.”

The mission called the statement part of “another Iranophobic campaign.”

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3:35 p.m.

Iran’s U.N. Mission says the government “categorically rejects” the U.S. claim that it was responsible for the latest incidents against oil tankers which it condemns “in the strongest possible terms.”

A statement from the mission Thursday evening said “Iran stands ready to play an active and constructive role in ensuring the security of strategic maritime passages as well as promoting peace, stability and security in the region.”

It warned of “U.S. coercion, intimidation and malign behavior” and expressed concern “over suspicious incidents” involving the two tankers on Thursday.

The mission dismissed as “inflammatory” a statement by acting U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen after a closed U.N. Security Council meeting on the tanker attacks that Iran should meet the United States with diplomacy.

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2:20 a.m.

Kuwait’s U.N. ambassador says he is pleased that all Security Council members condemn the latest attacks on two tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and want to see a thorough investigation.

Mansour Al-Otaibi’s country holds the council presidency this month. He told reporters after a closed meeting Thursday called by the United States that he wasn’t authorized to make any official statement about the latest attacks.

But he said: “We are really pleased to hear that all council members condemned what happened.”

“It is a violation of international law and it’s a criminal act,” Al-Otaibi said.

“Everybody wants an impartial and objective investigation,” he said, adding that there was no discussion on who should conduct it and no discussion of evidence.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said he briefed the council on the U.S. assessment that Iran was responsible.

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2:00 a.m.

The acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says Iran should meet the United States with diplomacy — “not with terror, attacks on ships, infrastructure and diplomatic facilities.”

Jonathan Cohen told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors Thursday at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s request that the United States assesses the latest tanker attacks to be “yet another example of Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.”

He said the “litany of incidents … demonstrate the clear threat that Iran poses to international peace and security.”

Cohen said “no proxy group in the area has the resources or the skill to act with this level of sophistication.”

“Iran, however, has the weapons, the expertise and the requisite intelligence information to pull this off,” he said.

11:50 p.m.

Senior U.S. officials say they do not believe the threat from Iran is over, after oil tankers came under a suspected attack Thursday near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, the officials say the U.S. has photographed an unexploded mine on the side of one of the tankers and assesses Iran was responsible for the attack. The photograph is expected to be made public later Thursday.

The officials say the U.S. will reevaluate its presence in the region, but there is not yet a firm plan to protect shipping in the geographic choke point. They advise that a program to provide military escorts of merchant ships under consideration.

— Zeke Miller in Washington

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11:45 p.m.

Kuwait’s foreign minister is calling the suspected attacks on two tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz a threat to international peace and security.

Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that “this is the most recent event in a series of acts of sabotage that are threatening the security of maritime corridors as well as threatening energy security of the world.”

Kuwait holds the council presidency this month and is the Arab representative on the U.N.’s most powerful body.

The United States asked for closed Security Council consultations on the tanker incidents late Thursday.

Kuwait’s U.N. Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi told reporters “we have to see how the discussion goes and then we will consider how to move forward on this.”

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9:25 p.m.

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command says 21 crew members rescued from the oil tanker Kokuka Courageous are now on board the Navy’s USS Bainbridge following an explosion.

Lt. Col. Earl Brown says the U.S. Navy ship was in international waters in the Gulf of Oman near the Courageous when it received a distress call at about 6 a.m. local time.

Brown says the Bainbridge provided “immediate assistance” to the Courageous and its crew members after they abandoned ship.

Naval Forces Central Command also received a distress call from the MV Front Altair.

The shipping company that operates the Front Altair said earlier that the crew of that ship was safely evacuated.

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9:15 p.m.

Iranian state TV is airing footage of crewmembers on one of the tankers damaged in a suspected attack in the Sea of Oman in a room watching English language news on television.

The video shows apparent crewmembers, including one woman, sitting on couches and watching TV in the Iranian port of Jask.

Two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, were damaged in suspected attacks Thursday, the U.S. Navy said, with one adrift and on fire amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran.

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8:15 p.m.

The head of the Arab League is urging the U.N. Security Council to take action against those responsible for the recent targeting of oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf and attacks against Saudi Arabia which he called “dangerous.”

Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told a council meeting Thursday on cooperation between the U.N. and the Arab League that “some parties in our region are trying to instigate fires in our region and we must be aware of that.”

Aboul Gheit said an emergency Arab League summit on May 31 condemned “terrorist attacks” against Saudi oil installations and commercial vessels in United Arab Emirates waters and reiterated solidarity “in the face of Iranian interference and practices.”

He urged international solidarity “to send an unequivocal and unambiguous message to our neighbors that subversive activities are no longer acceptable,” including “concealing themselves behind regional proxies or gray zone operation that are non-attributable to their original perpetrators.”

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7:35 p.m.

The Japanese operator of a tanker that was damaged in a suspected attack in the Strait of Hormuz says all of its crewmembers are now safe onboard a U.S. Navy warship.

The chemical tanker Kokuka Courageous, operated by Kokuka Sangyo Co., was apparently attacked as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz toward Singapore and Thailand destinations to deliver methanol.

All of its 21 Filipino crewmembers escaped on a life boat and were initially rescued by a Dutch ship that was headed to the United Arab Emirates.

Company executive Michio Yube said the crewmembers are now on an unidentified U.S. warship. One of the crewmembers received treatment for his injury sustained during the attacks.

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7 p.m.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he welcomes Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s commitment during talks to remaining de-nuclearized as “major progress” for regional peace.

Abe said Khamenei during Thursday’s talks assured him that Iran has no intention to produce, possess or use nuclear arms.

Abe, before boarding his flight back to Tokyo, said he frankly told Khamenei that U.S. President Donald Trump doesn’t wish to escalate tension in the Middle East. He said it is important for leaders to ease tensions.

Abe says: “A passage to de-escalating tension is difficult, but I hope to continue working for peace and stability in the region and the world.”

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6:55 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Persian Gulf region.

The United Nations chief told the U.N. Security Council he is deeply concerned at Thursday morning’s “security incident” in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Two oil tankers were damaged in suspected attacks.

Guterres told the 15-member council during a meeting on the U.N.’s cooperation with the Arab League: “I strongly condemn any attack against civilian vessels.”

He said “facts must be established, and responsibilities clarified.”

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6:25 p.m.

Iran’s state TV is reporting that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has left Iran to return home after a two-day visit amid tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Abe is the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Tehran since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. He met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

Abe traveled to Tehran as an interlocutor for President Donald Trump to ease tensions.

However, Khamenei told Abe: “I don’t regard Trump as deserving any exchange of messages and have no response for him and will give no response.”

Regional tensions escalated as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.

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5:35 p.m.

The firm that operates the Front Altair vessel targeted by an explosion and subsequent fire says the crew of 23 aboard the vessel included Russians, Filipinos and one Georgian national.

The crew, rescued Thursday by nearby vessel Hyundai Dubai, were unharmed and were transferred to an Iranian navy vessel and disembarked at a local Iranian port. The firm says they are now being transferred to the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.

The crew included 11 Russians, one Georgian and 11 Filipinos.

International Tanker Management, which operates the MT Front Altair, says a salvage tug is now in attendance of the vessel and that no marine pollution or leaks have been reported.

The vessel was carrying a petroleum product known as naptha on its way to the Far East.

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5:15 p.m.

Japan’s trade minister says suspected attacks on a Japanese tanker near the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East have not affected Japan’s energy supply, urging people to stay calm.

Hiroshige Seko, referring to the alleged attacks, says: “It is not a desirable situation for Japan.” He said the government will take all possible measures to ensure stable energy supply.

The incident happened as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on a high-stakes visit in Tehran that sought to ease Iran-U.S. tensions, suggested the efforts had failed.

Energy-poor Japan mostly relies on oil imports from the Middle East. Most of the shipments from the region pass through the Strait of Hormuz, and its safety is considered crucial for the country.

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4:30 p.m.

Tracking data shows one of the ships that sustained damage in a suspected attack near the Strait of Hormuz took petroleum products from the United Arab Emirates, while the other took on loads in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Tracking information from the data firm Refinitiv shows the first vessel, the Front Altair, came from Ruwais in the UAE, a loading point for the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. It carried naphtha, a flammable hydrocarbon.

That firm, known as ADNOC, did not respond for a request for comment.

The other vessel, the Kokuka Courageous, came from Mesaieed, Qatar, and Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Refinitiv says it carried methanol, a chemical compound used in a variety of products.

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2:35 p.m.

A South Korean company confirms that all the 23 crew aboard one of the two oil tankers targeted in the suspected attack near the Strait of Hormuz have been rescued by one of its cargo vessels sailing in the area.

The Seoul-based Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. on Thursday cited crew of its Hyundai Dubai cargo vessel as saying that there were three rounds of explosion sounds at the MT Front Altair before it sent an emergency distress call.

The company says it’s the operator of the Hyundai Dubai vessel.

A company statement says the 30,000-ton-class Hyundai Dubai vessel sent a lifeboat to rescue MT Front Altair’s 23 crew members before embarking them on the cargo vessel.

It says the Hyundai Dubai vessel later handed over the rescued crew members to an Iranian rescue boat.

It says the MT Front Altair, built in 2016, was on its way to Japan with naphtha, a petrochemical product, when the suspected attack took place.

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—this item has been corrected to say the Hyundai Dubai vessel is a 30,000-ton-class;

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2:20 p.m.

The Iranian foreign minister has described the reported attack on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz as suspicious, since it occurred during a meeting between Japan’s prime minister and Iran’s supreme leader.

Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comment in a tweet on Thursday: “Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning.”

He didn’t elaborate.

Zarif described the talks between Shinzo Abe and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as “extensive and friendly.”

However, Khamenei said Iran would never negotiate with the U.S. and said that while his country didn’t seek nuclear weapons, “America could not do anything” to stop Iran if it did.

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2:05 p.m.

The Japanese trade minister says two tankers carrying “Japan-related” cargo were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz.

Hiroshige Seko said on Thursday that all crew members were safely rescued. He said the government has set up a task force and that the government has informed the shipping industry to use precautions.

The Japan Shipowners’ Association said one of the two ships attacked is a Panamanian-registered chemical tanker belonging to its Japanese member and was on its way to Singapore and Thailand, not to Japan.

It said all 21 Filipino crewmembers were uninjured.

The attacks came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a two-day trip to Iran with a mission to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.

No one has claimed responsibility or explained how the tankers were attacked.

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1:35 p.m.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneni says that while Tehran doesn’t want an atomic bomb, “America could not do anything” to stop Iran if it did.

Khamenei made the comment on Thursday during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came to Tehran as an interlocutor for President Donald Trump to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran.

His visit may not have succeeded, however. Khamenei earlier was quoted as saying Iran “will in no way repeat” negotiations with the U.S. amid tension over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Khamenei’s official website quoted him as telling Abe: “I don’t regard Trump as deserving any exchange of messages and have no response for him and will give no response.”

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1:20 p.m.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says that Tehran “will in no way repeat” negotiations with the U.S. amid tension over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Khamenei made the comment on Thursday, during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who traveled to Tehran as an interlocutor for President Donald Trump to ease tensions between Washington and Tehran.

But the comments by Khamenei could indicate that Abe’s visit may not have succeeded.

Khamenei’s official website quoted him as telling Abe: “I don’t regard Trump as deserving any exchange of messages and have no response for him and will give no response.”

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12:50 p.m.

Japan’s Trade Ministry says the two oil tankers reportedly attacked near the Strait of Hormuz carried “Japan-related” cargo.

Thursday’s comment came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was wrapping up a two-day trip to Iran with a mission to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.

No one has claimed responsibility or explained how the tankers were attacked. However, the U.S. previously blamed Iran for an attack last month on four oil tankers close to the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah.

Meanwhile, Iranian state television reported that 44 sailors from the two tankers have been transferred to an Iranian port in the southern province of Hormozgan.

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Noon

A firm that operates a crude oil vessel — one of two reportedly targeted in the Gulf of Oman — says an explosion caused a fire onboard. Another shipping firm identified the second vessel hit and said 21 sailors were evacuated, with one slightly injured in the incident.

International Tanker Management, which operates the MT Front Altair, told The Associated Press the incident is still being investigated and that it was unclear what caused the explosion, which occurred around 8 a.m. local time on Thursday.

The MT Front Altair had been loaded at a port in the Gulf with a petroleum product known as naptha, and was on its way to the Far East. Its crew of 23 is safe after being evacuated by the nearby Hyundai Dubai vessel.

Meanwhile, BSM Ship Management says its crew of 21 aboard the Kokuka Courageous carrying methanol has also been rescued in the Gulf of Oman by a nearby vessel after what it described as an “incident on board which resulted in damage to the ship’s hull starboard side.”

One crew man was slightly injured in the incident and is receiving first aid on board the Coastal Ace.

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11:25 a.m.

The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet says it is assisting two oil tankers targeted in the “reported attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.”

The Bahrain-based force did not elaborate on who attacked what it described as two oil tankers. It also did not blame anyone for the attack.

The 5th Fleet said it had sent naval forces to the area to assist the two vessels. One has been identified as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker.

A private maritime intelligence firm says the Front Altair is adrift and on fire.

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11:15 a.m.

Iran’s state TV is reporting that the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has met with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe amid tension between Iran and United States.

The meeting on Thursday morning, the second and final day of Abe’s landmark visit, came amid reports of an oil tanker explosion in the Gulf of Oman.

Abe is the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Tehran since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. On Wednesday, he warned that an “accidental conflict” amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. must be avoided at all costs.

Abe’s trip is the highest-level effort yet to de-escalate the crisis as Tehran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers, an accord that the Trump administration pulled out of last year.

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11 a.m.

Benchmark Brent crude oil has risen over 4% in trading, to over $62 a barrel after oil tanker incident in Gulf of Oman.

That’s according to early market figures on Thursday.

A U.K. maritime safety group warned a short while earlier of an unspecified incident in the Gulf of Oman and urged “extreme caution” amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran and a high-stakes visit by the Japanese prime minister to Iran.

Iranian media claimed — without offering any evidence — that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers. A private intelligence firm later said an oil tanker was adrift and on fire.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the alert but did not elaborate on the incident. It said it was investigating.

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10 a.m.

A U.K. maritime safety group is warning that an unspecified incident has taken place in the Gulf of Oman and is urging “extreme caution” amid heightened U.S.-Iran tensions.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the alert early on Thursday. It did not elaborate but said it was investigating.

The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The incident comes as Iranian media claimed — without offering any evidence — that there had been an explosion in the area targeting oil tankers.

Thursday’s maritime alert comes after what the U.S. has described as Iranian attacks on four oil tankers nearby, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied being involved.

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9:35 a.m.

Japan’s top government spokesman says Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s high-stakes trip to Iran is intended to help de-escalate tensions in the Mideast — and not specifically mediate between Tehran and Washington.

The remarks by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to reporters were apparently meant to downplay and lower expectations amid uncertain prospects for Abe’s mission.

Abe was to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday, the second and final day of his visit.

On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Abe warned any “accidental conflict” that could be sparked amid the heightened U.S.-Iran tensions must be avoided.

Tensions have escalated in the Mideast and Iran appears poised to break the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Washington pulled out of the agreement last year.

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