UAE won't be baited into Iran crisis as tensions mount

By Zainab Fattah and Manus Cranny on 5/16/2019

DUBAI and LONDON (Bloomberg) -- The United Arab Emirates “won’t jump the gun” and accuse Iran of sabotaging ships off its coast, a senior government official said, as rising tensions in the Persian Gulf stoke concerns the region is teetering on the brink of another war.

In an hour-long briefing, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, struck a cautious tone, stressing his country is “very committed to deescalation” and would exercise “caution and prudence” in a “brittle, difficult” situation. He said an investigation of the attack on the four ships, which includes Saudi and Norwegian vessels, was being assisted by American and French investigators and should wind up within days.

“We need to address Iran’s behavior clearly, but at the same time not to be baited into crisis,” Gargash said in an interview with Bloomberg Television late on Wednesday. “This is the region we live in and it’s important for us that we manage this crisis.”

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, and neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia have identified suspected culprits. Gargash dismissed an anonymous U.S. official’s claim blaming Iran, saying the U.A.E. is closer to the investigation.

Tensions have been rising in the Persian Gulf since the U.S. stopped granting waivers last month to buyers of Iranian oil, tightening the crippling sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The U.S., citing unspecified threats from Iran, has accelerated the movement of a carrier battle group to the region and dispatched bombers and a Patriot anti-missile battery. On Wednesday, citing an “increased threat stream,” it ordered its non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq.

Iran has responded to the accelerated U.S. military movement by threatening to abandon limits on uranium enrichment enshrined in the nuclear deal unless the remaining signatories find a way to let it access the economic benefits it expected to reap under the accord. The U.S. pullout from the agreement has made European companies and banks shy from doing business with Iran for fear of falling afoul of the American sanctions.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels escalated the frictions in the region with drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities on Tuesday. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition that’s been fighting the Houthis for the past four years hit rebel targets on Thursday in retaliation, and a Saudi prince accused Iran of ordering the drone attacks.

“We will also retaliate and retaliate hard when we see the Houthis hit civilian targets within Saudi Arabia,” Gargash told reporters in a separate briefing on Wednesday evening.

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