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U.N. Security Council urges calm in Gulf

The U.N. Security Council called for "maximum restraint" in the tense Gulf region to avoid military escalation, but Iran rejected holding talks with the U.S.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — The U.N. Security Council called for "maximum restraint" in the tense Gulf region on Monday to avoid any military escalation, but Iran rejected holding talks with the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed fresh sanctions.

Following a two-hour closed-door meeting at the request of the United States, the 15-nation council unanimously adopted a press statement drafted by Kuwait condemning recent attacks on oil tankers and calling them a threat to international peace, security and global energy supplies.

U.S. officials have blamed Iran for two separate incidents around the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman involving six damaged oil tankers. Iran has vehemently denied involvement.

“The council members urge concerned parties and all countries in the region to exercise maximum restraint and take measures and actions to reduce escalation and end tension,” said the statement read aloud by Kuwait's U.N. ambassador, Mansour Al-Otaibi, whose nation holds the council's monthly rotating presidency.

The statement came hours after Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions targeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials, in a Trump administration bid to further pressure Tehran after it downed an unmanned American drone.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the order, which marked the first time Americans directly targeted an Iranian head of state, would freeze billions of dollars in Iranian assets.

"It’s clear to us, and it should be to the world, that Iran was responsible for the May 12 and June 13 attacks against ships in the Persian Gulf," said Jonathan Cohen, acting U.S. ambassador to the U.N. "Such attacks pose a serious threat to the freedom of navigation and commerce in one of the world’s most important waterways.”

Iran's U.N. ambassador, Majid Takht Ravanchi, told reporters the United States has "no respect for international law and order." Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Trump's allies "despise diplomacy and thirst for war."

U.S. in bid to pressure Iran

The Iranian military last week shot down an unmanned U.S. drone over what the United States said were international waters in the Gulf. Cohen said the drone that Iran shot down had not entered Iranian airspace.

“Iran must understand that these attacks are unacceptable," said Cohen. "It’s time for the world to join us in saying so. Our policy remains an economic and diplomatic effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table.”

Ravanchi, however, said the drone was violating Iranian airspace when it was shot down but Iran wanted “neither war, nor an escalation of tension” in the region. He said his request to participate in the Security Council meeting was turned down.

“The U.S. decision today to impose more sanctions against Iran is yet another indication of continued U.S. hostility against the Iranian people and their leaders," said Ravanchi. “To ease tensions in the broader Persian Gulf region, the U.S. must stop its military adventurism in our region, as well as its economic war."

Iran announced in May it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if world powers do not accept new terms under the 2015 nuclear deal that the Trump administration renounced. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani also said Iran would stop complying with other aspects of the treaty, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, by no longer exporting excess uranium and heavy water from its nuclear program.

Under the deal, Iran has been limited to enriching uranium to 3.67%, enough to fuel a commercial nuclear power plant. Iran also was allowed to keep a stockpile of up to 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, which is just 3% of the 10,000 kilograms of higher-enriched uranium it once maintained.

The nuclear deal with Iran involved the Security Council’s permanent, veto-wielding members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union. The council, which is the most powerful arm of the United Nations, unanimously endorsed the JCPOA in July 2015 with the support of its five permanent members.

But the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the deal and reintroduce U.S. sanctions on Iran  last year ratcheted up pressure on the Mideast regional power's struggling economy and ruling regime while further inflaming transatlantic tensions.

That left the embattled JCPOA, which lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran and imposed enforceable limits on its nuclear program, dependent on Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and European Union.