UAE's Anwar Gargash: tension in the region must reduce

Outcome of investigation into May 12 oil tanker attacks is crucial, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs tells 'The National'

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Investigations into the sabotage of four oil tankers off Fujairah in May can play an important role in reducing tension over Iranian disruption in the region, Dr Anwar Gargash has told The National.

Dr Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said it was important that a full and comprehensive investigation with the involvement of other states was carried out before responsibility was attributed.

“We have been very thorough in making sure friends and allies are part of this investigation, in making sure we don’t jump to conclusions, in making sure that our presentation is factual,” Dr Gargash said on the sidelines of the Globsec conference in Bratislava, Slovakia.

“All this with an eye that the current escalation in the region needs, I would say, wisdom. It needs patience and de-escalation.”

“We clearly don’t want to see a war in our region that the whole region would pay dearly for.

"We’re also at the same time quite adamant that Iran’s behaviour must be ameliorated, must change, because clearly the last few years has been exceedingly difficult with the type of Iranian policies we have seen.”

Dr Gargash was speaking before the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Norway were to present the findings of their investigation into the tanker attacks to UN Security Council diplomats later on Thursday.

Two of the tankers were Saudi-flagged, one was registered in Norway and the other in the UAE.

The investigation took place against concerns that the May 12 attacks affected the safety of international navigation and security of world oil supplies.

Dr Gargash said he hoped that a change in Iran’s behaviour could be achieved through Washington’s policy of sanctions and pressure.

He identified three areas that Iran needed to address: its nuclear programme; its ballistic missile development; and regional policy.

“From that perspective we supported Washington’s policy of sanctions on Iran, again with an eye on changing Iran’s behaviour in the region," Dr Gargash said.

"We feel that policy should bring Iran to an acknowledgement that it has to address these three areas the international community is concerned with."

President Donald Trump has offered talks with Iran over America withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal and he has been forthright in telling Tehran that it cannot freely antagonise and provoke the US.

The result could be war.

“I’d rather not but there's always a chance," Mr Trump said this week. "I would much rather talk.”

While the world had hailed the nuclear deal as a breakthrough against proliferation during the presidency of Barack Obama, Mr Trump said Iran was playing a damaging role in the Middle East.

"So Iran is a place that was extremely hostile when I first came into office," he said while in the UK. "They were a terrorist nation – number one in the world at that time – and probably maybe are today.”

Dr Gargash said the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, had not delivered the impact expected.

"The change of behaviour was very much built into the argument," he said.

"That didn't happen. What we saw in the period since the JCPOA was signed was greater Iranian involvement in Arab affairs, in Syria, in Yemen and other Arab countries."

In a sign of its growing concern the US administration has in recent weeks ordered all non-essential diplomatic staff to leave Iraq, saying there were threats from Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups.

It also sent an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region.

The US has accused Iran of being behind the Fujairah attacks.

Its officials believe Tehran is orchestrating a campaign of disruption in retaliation for US sanctions imposed against its nuclear programme and meddling in regional states.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said last month that he believed "naval mines almost certainly from Iran" were responsible for the damage to the vessels anchored in the Gulf of Oman.

"It's clear that Iran is behind the Fujairah attack,” Mr Bolton said. “Who else would you think would be doing it? Someone from Nepal?

”There is no doubt in anybody's minds in Washington. We know who did this and it's important Iran knows we know.”