John Bolton Says Iran 'Almost Certainly' Bombed Oil Tankers Off UAE, Accuses Tehran of Foiled Attack in Saudi Arabia

john Bolton, Iran, tanker, bombs, sabotage, UAE, nuclear, weapons, uranium
National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House April 30, 2019, in Washington, D.C. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

National security adviser John Bolton has once again gone on the offensive against Iran, even as his boss seeks to de-escalate the war of words between Tehran and Washington.

Speaking with reporters in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, Bolton—one of the president's most hawkish advisers on foreign policy—claimed Iran was almost certainly behind attacks on four oil tankers off the UAE coast earlier this month, The Associated Press reported.

American officials have been investigating the sabotage, which left one Norwegian, one Emirati and two Saudi tankers damaged off the coast of Fujairah. While the U.S. suspected Iranian involvement, senior White House figures have held off on openly accusing Tehran until now. In recent days, President Donald Trump has been trying to play down the risk of war and Washington's supposed desire for regime change.

Bolton said the attacks were carried out with naval mines placed "almost certainly by Iran," but did not provide any evidence to support the assertion. Last week, the Pentagon made a similar accusation. Director of the Joint Staff Rear Admiral Michael Gilday said the military attributed the attack to Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, declining to describe "the means of delivery" of the limpet mines.

But Bolton did not stop there. He also said Tehran was behind a foiled bomb attack on the Saudi oil port of Yanbu, an alleged plot not previously disclosed. The port serves as the terminus for Saudi Arabia's East-West Pipeline that spans the width of the Arabian Peninsula. The pipeline has recently come under attack from drones piloted by Houthi rebels in Yemen, allegedly with Iranian support.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have reached boiling point in recent weeks as the dispute over the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal—threatens to tip over into war.

Trump is a long-time critic of the agreement, which lifted crippling sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program. The president withdrew the U.S. from the accord last year, claiming the deal was ineffective and did not go far enough. The administration wants to renegotiate the agreement to include limitations on Iran's ballistic missile program and regional influence, though Tehran has said neither is up for negotiation.

The White House has reintroduced a raft of sanctions designed to limit Iran's access to international markets and cut its oil exports to zero in an effort to force the regime back to the negotiating table. Iran has given the other cosignatories of the deal—the U.K., Germany, France, Russia, China and the European Union—until July 7 to propose a way for the deal to survive, the AP noted.

With the deal adrift, the regime in Tehran has reportedly expanded its production of enriched uranium, used for both nuclear power plant fuel at low enrichment (3 to 4 percent) and nuclear weapons at high enrichment (90 percent plus).

Before the JCPOA was signed, Iran produced enriched uranium with around 20,000 centrifuges at two separate facilities sites. The deal dictated that only 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges could be used at just one site, while the national uranium stockpile would be cut by 98 percent—to 660 pounds—for 15 years. The country's maximum level of uranium enrichment was set at 3.67 percent.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing the deal, said recently that Iran is adhering to its commitments despite increased pressure from the U.S.

Bolton said accelerated uranium enrichment would make no sense unless Tehran was working on nuclear weapons. "There's no reason for them to do [higher enrichment] unless it is to reduce the breakout time to nuclear weapons," he said, noting that without more power plants there was no point in stockpiling the material.