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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Israeli-owned cargo ship that suffered a mysterious explosion in the Gulf of Oman came to Dubai’s port for repairs Sunday, days after the blast that revived security concerns in Mideast waterways amid heightened tensions with Iran.

An Associated Press journalist saw the hulking Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray sitting at dry dock facilities in Dubai.

Although the crew was unharmed in the blast the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.

It remains unclear what caused the blast, but the incident comes amid sharply rising tension between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has sought to pressure President Joe Biden’s administration to grant the sanctions relief it received under the accord with world powers that former President Donald Trump abandoned.

The blast on the ship Friday recalled a string of attacks on foreign oil tankers in 2019 that the U.S. Navy blamed on Iran. Tehran denied any role in the suspected assaults, which happened near the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil chokepoint.

The Helios Ray had discharged cars at various ports in the Persian Gulf before making its way out of the Middle East toward Singapore. The blast hit as the ship was sailing from the Saudi port Dammam out of the Gulf of Oman, forcing it to turn to Dubai for inspection.

Iranian authorities have not publicly commented on the ship. Israeli media has run reports saying the assessment in Israel is that Iran was behind the blast.

Iran’s hard-line Kayhan daily, whose editor-in-chief was appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, alleged the Helios Ray was “possibly” on an “espionage” mission in the region, without offering any evidence to support the claim. The report speculated the ship may have been “trapped in an ambush by a branch of resistance axis,” referring to Iranian proxies in the region.

Iran also has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago. Iran’s repeated vows to avenge Fakhrizadeh’s killing have raised alarms in Israel.

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US willing to lift Trump-era terrorism sanctions ‘not legitimately’ imposed on Iran

President Joe Biden is willing to lift some counterterrorism sanctions that former President Donald Trump imposed on Iran, U.S. officials have told Iranian negotiators, on the grounds that at least some terrorism sanctions were “not legitimately” imposed.

“The Trump administration deliberately and avowedly imposed sanctions by invoking labels — terrorism labels and other labels — even though it was done purely for the purpose of preventing or hindering a return to compliance with the JCPOA,” a senior State Department official told reporters, using the acronym for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. “We have to go through every sanction to make sure to look at whether they were legitimately or not legitimately imposed.”

Iranian officials have demanded that Biden lift every sanction imposed during Trump’s presidency, saying that Tehran will refuse to return to compliance with the nuclear deal apart from that wholesale reversal. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team has rejected that demand, but the final details about which sanctions get lifted and which remain will set the terms of a political fight over whether Biden is allowing Iranian leaders to use the nuclear deal as a shield for their other aggressive regional actions.

“There have been some signs of progress, but I wouldn’t want to overstate it,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Wednesday. “Again, these are indirect talks. The logistics of them are difficult. The issues are not simple or uncomplicated, which is another wrinkle in this.”


Much of the complexity derives from a lack of agreement about the legal obligations imposed on the United States by the 2015 accord. A senior State Department official emphasized in early April that “the U.S. retains the right to impose sanctions for non-nuclear reasons” even under the deal.

“All sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA and are inconsistent with the benefits that Iran expects from the JCPOA, we are prepared to lift,” a senior State Department official said on April 9. “That doesn’t mean all of them because there are some that are ... legitimate sanctions. Even under a very fair reading, a scrupulous reading of the JCPOA, those would be legitimate sanctions."

Blinken’s team conceded Wednesday that the Biden administration believes that the Trump team abused that right. “So that has made it more difficult,” the senior State Department official said.

U.S. and Iranian officials have been talking through intermediaries in Vienna in recent weeks under the auspices of the Joint Commission established to allow signatories to the pact — a list that includes the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the European Union — to convene as needed.

“The negotiators are returning home,” Price said earlier Wednesday. "We expect these talks will resume in the coming days, probably within the course of a week.”

Blinken’s representatives in Vienna have identified for the Iranians the types of sanctions that the U.S. expects to lift as well as those that Tehran should expect to coexist with the rehabilitation of the nuclear deal, but the boundaries of those categories remain a subject of debate.


“The third category is the one that is more ambiguous,” the senior State Department official said. “We have to look into whether we conclude, in the end, that they are — whether lifting the sanctions is necessary in order to come back into the JCPOA or not. And for that, we have to consider a number of factors, including the reality that the Trump administration … professed to be imposing this wall of sanctions in order to prevent a return to the JCPOA. So that’s one of the considerations. It’s not the only one, of course.”

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