Trump says Iran will 'suffer greatly' if U.S. is provoked

UAE says four vessels targets of 'sabotage' in waters near Fujairah port

Trump's warning comes shortly after the USA moved military assets to combat what the Defense and State Departments describe as credible threats against American interests.

Iran's foreign ministry called the incidents "worrisome and dreadful" and asked for an investigation.

The incident comes after months of increasing diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran, which the USA accuses of threatening American interests and allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The vessels were approaching the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important chokepoint for oil shipments.

The narrow waterway forms a crucial link between the vast oil reserves of the Gulf states and the energy-hungry markets of Asia, and there are nearly no alternate throughways. Its two shipping lanes are just two miles wide each, with another two-mile buffer zone between them.

- About 17.2 million bpd of crude and condensates were estimated to have been shipped through the Strait in 2017 and about 17.4 million bpd in the first half of 2018, according to oil analytics firm Vortexa.

Both the Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates governments condemned the attacks in statements to their national press agencies on Monday, but without naming the ships involved, or providing further details about what happened.

-It is also the route used for almost all the liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced by the world's biggest LNG exporter, Qatar. Vessel-tracking shows 102 ships are now at anchor or in the waters just off Fujairah, also raising security issues for the world's biggest bunkering port and hampering the clear identification of ships involved. A spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based US Naval Forces Central Command declined to comment and referred inquiries to the White House. While the exact cause remains unknown, al-Falih said it was an act of sabotage.

The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers a year ago.

The White House's all-sticks-and-no-carrots approach to Iran one year after the United States pulled out of the JCPOA has left Washington without that diplomatic leverage. Western powers fear Iran wants to make nuclear weapons. While no decision is expected to be taken since India is in the midst of elections, India is expected to give the Iranian minister a close hearing.

In this photo, oil tankers remain docked in front of Isla oil refinery, which is leased by Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA in Willemstad, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, on February 22, 2019.

The incident came after the U.S. Maritime Administration, a division of the U.S. Transportation Department, warned Thursday that Iran could target commercial sea traffic. Tehran said it was a deliberate attack.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Monday in a statement that the attacks on the ships "are alarming and regrettable". No one has claimed responsibility. The Islamic Republic has threatened to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the US halts Iranian energy exports and to scale back its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal. The attacks occurred in the Gulf of Oman, and resulted in "significant damage to the structures of the two vessels", al-Falih said. It also seized a container ship in the Strait.

"We are very anxious about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side but ends with some kind of conflict", Jeremy Hunt told reporters in Belgium. A Revolutionary Guards commander also said Iran would block all exports through the Strait if Iranian exports were stopped.

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