WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Friday that there was no doubt that Iran was behind the explosions that crippled two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman this week and warned Tehran not to try to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit point for the world’s oil supplies.
“Well, Iran did do it,” the president said in a telephone interview on “Fox & Friends” in his first comments since the ships were damaged. “You know they did it because you saw the boat. I guess one of the mines didn’t explode and it’s got essentially Iran written all over it.”
The president was referring to video footage released by the United States military that it said showed an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boat pulling alongside one of the stricken ships several hours after the first explosion and removing an unexploded limpet mine in broad daylight.
“That was their boat, that was them,” Mr. Trump said. “They didn’t want the evidence left behind.”
The president warned Iran not to try to block the Strait of Hormuz. “They’re not going to be closing it,” he said. “If it’s closed, it’s not going to be closed for long. And they know it.”
The explosions ratcheted up tension in the Middle East where Mr. Trump has sought to confront and contain Iran since he took office. Many players in the region were watching the president on Friday to see how he would respond to the latest episode, even as his administration sought to assign blame for the explosions to Iran amid skepticism from some critics of the United States.
The explosions forced the crews of both vessels to evacuate and left at least one ablaze. The incident increased international anxiety over the shipping lanes that are the gateway for a third of all crude oil by tanker, and raised fears of a broadening crisis that could escalate and jeopardize world energy supplies.
Iran dismissed allegations of its involvement, characterizing them as American propaganda intended to provoke a conflict.
“That the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—w/o a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence—only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy—including by @AbeShinzo—and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran,” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter on Friday.
This week’s episode came against the backdrop of a peacemaking visit to Iran by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, who brought a note from Mr. Trump to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. The ayatollah dismissed the overture. “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” he said Thursday after meeting with Mr. Abe, according to the ayatollah’s website.
In his interview on Friday, Mr. Trump said he was still open to diplomacy with Iran. “I’m ready when they are,” he said. “Whenever they’re ready it’s okay. I’m in no rush.”
Indeed, the often-bellicose president offered a relatively restrained response to the tanker explosions, avoiding incendiary threats and instead focusing most of his attention on criticizing his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that Mr. Trump has since pulled out of.
Mr. Trump insisted that Iran is in retreat in the region as a result of American pressure. “They’re a nation of terror,” he said. “They’ve changed a lot since I’ve been president. They were unstoppable and now they’re in deep, deep trouble.”
He added that “they haven’t screamed ‘death to America’ lately” and he asserted that Iran was retrenching from its interventions around the region.“They’re pulling back from everywhere,” he said. “They’re pulling back from Syria. They’re pulling back from Yemen.”
In fact, some Iranian proxy groups in the region have stepped up attacks lately. The Houthi faction in Yemen, which has been supported by Iran, has attacked Saudi oil pipelines and other targets. Just this week, a Houthi missile slammed into the arrival halls of a Saudi airport, injuring 26 people, according to Saudi news reports.
The Houthis reported launching a drone attack on the same airport on Friday but the Saudi military said it intercepted five Houthi drones and the airport was operating normally.
The damage to the two oil tankers on Thursday followed attacks on four tankers near Fujairah in May that Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said were “almost certainly” carried out by Iran.
Doubts about the American version of Thursday’s events were raised by the Japanese operator of one of the damaged tankers, which said that it was attacked by air. “Our crew said that the ship was attacked by a flying object,” said Yutaka Katada, the president of the operator, Kokuka Sangyo.