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International relations

Trump tells China and Japan to defend own ships in Strait of Hormuz

Iran diplomat accuses 'B Team,' including Bolton and Netanyahu, of warmongering

The Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, which was damaged by a limpet mine, anchored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, on June 19.   © AP

NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump Monday called on China and Japan to protect their oil tankers traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the U.S. would no longer provide protection in the crucial waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.

China, Japan and other countries heavily reliant on the passageway for their oil, "should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey," Trump said on Twitter.

"We don't even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!" he said, after questioning why the U.S. is "protecting the shipping lanes for other countries" for "zero compensation."

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded on Twitter, saying that Trump is "100% right that the U.S. military has no business in the Persian Gulf."

"Removal of its forces is fully in line with interests of U.S. and the world," Zarif said. "But it's now clear that the B Team is not concerned with U.S. interests -- they despise diplomacy, and thirst for war."

Zarif's so-called "B Team" refers to Trump's national security adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Iran accuses of having an agenda of trapping the U.S. president into war with Tehran.

The two sides are engaging in a battle to win over the international community. On Monday, the U.N. Security Council held a closed-door session where the U.S. briefed members with the latest developments including details of the investigation into recent tanker attacks in the Strait of Hormuz. On June 13, the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers -- including one belonging to a Japanese company -- a charge Tehran has denied.

Iran, meanwhile, is preparing for a meeting in Vienna on Friday with the U.K., Germany, France, China and Russia to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. Tehran has requested the remaining members to come up with measures to circumvent the U.S. sanctions so that Iran can continue exporting oil and continue financial settlements.

The back and forth on Twitter comes amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Trump said Thursday that the U.S. was "cocked and loaded" for military strikes on three targets inside the Islamic republic, but called it off at the last minute. The strikes would have been retaliation for Iran's downing of an unmanned U.S. drone.

Adding to the tensions, Trump signed an executive order Monday imposing "hard-hitting" sanctions on the Iranian regime, on top of those already in place including on the country's oil exports and other sectors.

The Strait of Hormuz is the most important energy passageway in the world, with a daily oil flow averaging 21 million barrels per day in 2018, or the equivalent of about 21% of global petroleum liquids consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It is especially crucial for Asian economies that are heavily dependent on oil imports from the Middle East.

Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko has said he will raise the issue of the recent attacks in near the strait at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka later this week.

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