Ayatollah claims US ‘couldn’t do anything’ to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons

Iran‘s ayatollah said Thursday the US ‘couldn’t do anything’ to stop his country developing nuclear weapons.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a meeting that he had no intention of opening negotiations with Donald Trump.

Khamenei reassured the Japanese leader that Iran had no intention of developing a nuclear arsenal – but added ‘America couldn’t stop us anyway’ if they chose to.

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was also at the meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was also at the meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was also at the meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

The ayatollah bemoaned previous encounters with the US as ‘bitter experiences’ as Abe jetted into Tehran carrying a message to Iranian leaders from U.S. President Donald Trump. 

Tensions between the United States and Iran, already at a high pitch, were expected to escalate further on Thursday after reports of suspected attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf.

Washington has dispatched additional forces to the region in recent weeks after accusing Tehran of threatening shipping there. Iran has denied being behind previous similar attacks.

State media quoted Khamenei as saying in his meeting with Abe: ‘I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future.’

Khamenei also said Trump’s promise not to seek regime change in Iran was ‘a lie’, adding that he did not believe Washington’s offer of honest negotiations with Tehran.

In the meeting on Thursday Khamenei said he would not be opening negotiations with Trump

In the meeting on Thursday Khamenei said he would not be opening negotiations with Trump

In the meeting on Thursday Khamenei said he would not be opening negotiations with Trump

Abe has been visiting Iran carrying a message to Iranian leaders from U.S. President Donald Trump

Abe has been visiting Iran carrying a message to Iranian leaders from U.S. President Donald Trump

Abe has been visiting Iran carrying a message to Iranian leaders from U.S. President Donald Trump

Strains between Washington and Tehran have sharply increased in recent weeks, a year after the United States abandoned a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran has no trust in America and will never repeat the bitter experience of previous negotiations with America in the framework of the JCPOA, Khamenei said, using the acronym for the nuclear deal. No wise and proud nation will accept negotiations under pressure.

Abe told reporters in Tehran that ‘Supreme Leader Khamenei made a comment that the country will not and should not make, hold or use nuclear weapons, and that it has no such intentions.’

Last month Washington revoked sanctions waivers that had allowed some countries, including Japan, to continue buying Iranian crude, effectively ordering all countries to stop purchasing Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.

Despite pushing for imports to continue, Japan has stopped importing oil from Iran for now to avoid U.S. sanctions.

On a visit to Japan last month, U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed Abe’s help in dealing with Iran, highlighting what he called the ‘very good relationship’ between Tokyo and Tehran.

Rouhani (third from left) meets Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (second from right) at the Sadabad Palace in Tehran

Rouhani (third from left) meets Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (second from right) at the Sadabad Palace in Tehran

Rouhani (third from left) meets Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (second from right) at the Sadabad Palace in Tehran

Middle East on alert as two oil tankers are hit by explosions and one ‘sinks’ in suspected ‘torpedo attack’ in Gulf of Oman – weeks after Iran attacked similar vessels off of UAE 

The Middle East is on high alert today after two oil tankers were hit by explosions in the Gulf of Oman.

One of the ships, the MT Front Altair, caught fire after a suspected torpedo attack and was feared to have sunk but the ship’s Norwegian owner says it is still afloat.

The Altair and the Kokuka Courageous were evacuated after sending distress signals – picked up by the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet – with 44 sailors rescued.

Britain has urged ‘extreme caution’ amid high tensions in the Middle East, weeks after four tankers were attacked in a mysterious act of sabotage off the UAE coast which Washington believes was the work of Iran.

Smoke pours from the Norwegian-owned oil tanker on Thursday after it was hit by an explosion near the UAE and Iran in an apparent attack which has put the Middle East on high alert

Smoke pours from the Norwegian-owned oil tanker on Thursday after it was hit by an explosion near the UAE and Iran in an apparent attack which has put the Middle East on high alert

Smoke pours from the Norwegian-owned oil tanker on Thursday after it was hit by an explosion near the UAE and Iran in an apparent attack which has put the Middle East on high alert 

Iran said it was ‘suspicious’ about the timing, as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets Iran’s Supreme Leader today in an effort to defuse the crisis, while Tokyo revealed that the two tankers had been carrying ‘Japan-related cargo’.

Mr Abe had warned yesterday that the tense Middle East standoff, which has seen furious exchanges between America and Iran, could lead to an ‘accidental’ war.

The Taiwanese oil refiner which chartered the Marshall Islands-flagged MT Front Altair said the ship was ‘suspected of being hit by a torpedo’.

Reports said said the Front Altair, travelling from Qatar to Taiwan, had suffered three explosions and caught fire after a ‘surface attack’.

Iranian news agency IRNA claimed that the ship had sunk, but its Norwegian owner Frontline insisted it was still afloat.

Its crew of 23 were picked up by nearby vessel Hyundai Dubai.

The Altair had been loaded at a port in the Gulf with a petroleum product known as naphtha, and was on its way to the Far East.

The attacks on Wednesday and Thursday mark the latest flashpoint amid escalating Middle East tensions, which erupted again last month after tankers and an oil pipeline were targeted (pictured, a diagram showing the location of May's attacks)

The attacks on Wednesday and Thursday mark the latest flashpoint amid escalating Middle East tensions, which erupted again last month after tankers and an oil pipeline were targeted (pictured, a diagram showing the location of May's attacks)

The attacks on Wednesday and Thursday mark the latest flashpoint amid escalating Middle East tensions, which erupted again last month after tankers and an oil pipeline were targeted (pictured, a diagram showing the location of May’s attacks) 

The Altair’s cargo was worth more than $30million, according to estimates from trade sources.

Meanwhile, a shipping broker said the Panama-flagged Kokuka had suffered an explosion after an ‘outside attack’ which may have involved a magnetic mine.

The company operating the ship, which was heading to Singapore, said the attack had caused ‘damage to the ship’s hull starboard side.’

The Kokuka’s 21 crew were picked up by the nearby Vessel Coastal Ace, leaving the tanker adrift and empty after an engine room fire.

One of the crew members was slightly injured in the incident and received first aid on board the Coastal Ace, while the Kokuka’s methanol cargo is said to be intact.

Iran said its search and rescue teams had picked up the 44 sailors from the two ships and taken them to the port of Jask.

Norway has advised its ships to ‘stay well clear of Iranian waters until further notice’.

Commander Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said his command was ‘aware’ of a reported incident in the area. The fleet received one distress call at 6.12am local time and another one at 7am.

Last month the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (pictured in the Arabian Sea on June 1) to shore up its military presence in the region

Last month the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (pictured in the Arabian Sea on June 1) to shore up its military presence in the region

Last month the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (pictured in the Arabian Sea on June 1) to shore up its military presence in the region

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out the first alert this morning.

The UK Government later said: ‘We are deeply concerned by reports of explosions and fires on vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. We are in contact with local authorities and partners in the region.’

The co-ordinates offered for the incident by the UK group put it some 25 miles off the Iranian coastline.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said that ‘suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning’ while Iran was meeting Japan.

Benchmark Brent crude oil spiked four per cent in trading following the reported attack to more than 62 dollars a barrel, according to early market figures.

High tensions in the Middle East, and belligerent rhetoric from Washington and Tehran,x have sparked fears that any sudden movement could escalate into a war.

Last month the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to shore up its military presence in the region.

Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory

Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory

Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory

Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory

Norwegian oil tanker Andrea Victory, one of the four boats damaged in the Gulf, is pictured with a large dent in its stern last month 

The apparent attack today will send them spiralling further as Japan’s prime minister visits Iran in a bid to calm the situation.

On Wednesday, after talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Shinzo Abe warned that any ‘accidental conflict’ that could be sparked amid the heightened US-Iran tensions must be avoided.

But his talks with Iran faced a setback today as the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tehran would ‘in no way repeat’ negotiations with the U.S.

Khamenei took aim at Donald Trump and said he did not believe the U.S. President’s offer of ‘honest negotiations’.

Mr Abe is the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Tehran since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Last month Houthi forces claimed responsibility for sabotaging Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf of Yemen.

Saudi and UAE officials were tight-lipped about the extent of the damage but pictures showed at least one tanker with a hole in its hull.

The Taiwanese oil refiner which chartered the Front Altair (file photo) said the ship was 'suspected of being hit by a torpedo'

The Taiwanese oil refiner which chartered the Front Altair (file photo) said the ship was 'suspected of being hit by a torpedo'

The Taiwanese oil refiner which chartered the Front Altair (file photo) said the ship was ‘suspected of being hit by a torpedo’

The mysterious sabotage sent tensions spiralling in the Middle East as the U.S. blamed Iran and its allies for the attack – which divers said appeared to be the work of magnetic explosives.

Matters worsened after two pumping stations on a major Saudi oil pipeline were attacked by explosive-laden drones, halting the flow of crude along it.

The incidents sparked fears of a Gulf war breaking out ‘by accident’ with the U.S. and Iranian militaries on high alert amid high tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Mr Abe’s warning yesterday also came just hours after Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi airport, wounding 26 people.

The Saudi-led coalition which is fighting the Houthis in Yemen immediately pointed the blame at Iran, saying Tehran had equipped the rebel group with ‘advanced weapons’.

Saudi officials said the attack ‘proves this terrorist militia’s acquisition of new special weapons’ [and] the continuation of the Iranian regime’s support and practice of cross-border terrorism.’

A rebel TV network acknowledged the attack and said Houthi forces had fired a cruise missile.

A map showing the approximate location of the two ships which were seemingly attacked in the Gulf of Oman today in the latest Middle East flashpoint

A map showing the approximate location of the two ships which were seemingly attacked in the Gulf of Oman today in the latest Middle East flashpoint

A map showing the approximate location of the two ships which were seemingly attacked in the Gulf of Oman today in the latest Middle East flashpoint 

The latest crisis erupted after Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani threatened to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with the West, which is faltering already after Donald Trump pulled out of it last year.

Tehran has demanded that the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia help Iran to dodge U.S. sanctions, which were restored last year when Donald Trump quit the pact.

Speaking last month Rouhani said Iran would ramp up nuclear enrichment if such help did not materialise.

But the White House condemned what it called Iran’s attempted ‘nuclear blackmail of Europe’ and warned: ‘Expect more sanctions soon. Very soon.’

The threat also sparked a backlash from Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu warned he would ‘not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons’.

Donald Trump’s White House has not ruled out military action against Iran, although both sides insist they do not want a war.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said there ‘won’t be any war’ while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. ‘fundamentally does not seek any war’.

This picture released by Iran's state broadcaster showed one of the oil tankers on fire in the Gulf of Oman today after a suspected attack

This picture released by Iran's state broadcaster showed one of the oil tankers on fire in the Gulf of Oman today after a suspected attack

This picture released by Iran’s state broadcaster showed one of the oil tankers on fire in the Gulf of Oman today after a suspected attack 

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