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The United States warns merchant ships with possible Iranian attacks in the Middle East

LONDON (Reuters) – US merchant ships, including oil tankers sailing through central waterways in the Middle East, could be directed against Iran in one of the threats to American interests set by tehran, US Maritime Administration said in an advisory version.

FILE PHOTO: An MH-60S helicopter hangs in the air with an oil tanker in the background as USS John C. Stennis makes its way to the bay through the Hormuzstrain on December 21, 2018. REUTERS / Hamad in Mohammed / File Photo

The American Military said this week that a number of B-52 bombs would be included in additional forces sent to the Middle East to counteract what the Trump administration calls "clear indications" on Iran's threats to the US force there. The Islamic Republic has dismissed the US statement of a threat as "false intelligence".

In the advisory post Thursday, the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) said that since early May there had been an increased opportunity for Iran or its regional proxies to take action against the United States and partner interests.

These included, said MARAD, oil production infrastructure, after Tehran threatened to close the vital strait of Hormuz chokepoint, through which about one-third of the world's seabirds are exporting crude exports.

"Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or US military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb or Persian Gulf," said MARAD.

"Reporting indicates increased Iranian readiness to conduct offensive activities against US forces and interests."

Millions of barrels of oil are sent daily through the various bottlenecks from oil producers in the Middle East to markets worldwide.

The tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington since the Trump administration drew a year ago from an international international nuclear energy agreement 2015 with Iran and began ratcheting sanctions on gas paper Tehran's economy.

Deputy Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the US Navy's Bahrain-based fifth fleet, told Reuters on Thursday that its forces were in an emergency, even though the US military did not seek or prepare for war against Iran.

MARAD added that US flagged vessels were encouraged to contact the Fifth Fleet – which is responsible for protecting commercial shipping in the area – at least two days before sailing through the Hormuz route.

Washington tightened further sanctions against Iran this month – removing exemptions that had allowed some countries to buy their oil – with the aim of reducing Tehran's crude exports to zero.

Iran has responded by scaling back some edge on its core stock of core stock, although it is still in line with commitments to limit its enrichment activity.

Reporting Jonathan Saul; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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