Spain pulls its frigate from US military build-up in Gulf

Madrid (AFP) –


Spain has recalled a frigate accompanying a US aircraft carrier to the Middle East because of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran, the defence ministry said Tuesday.

"For the moment the frigate Mendez Nunez has left the combat group of the USS Abraham Lincoln," a ministry spokesman told AFP, confirming a report in the Spanish daily El Pais.

"It's a temporary withdrawal, decided by Defence Minister Margarita Robles, as long as the American aircraft carrier is in this zone," the spokesman added.

He said the Spanish frigate had joined the aircraft carrier's strike group for a military exercise.

"No possible confrontation or warlike action is envisaged (by Spain) and it is for this reason that the participation is suspended for the moment," he added.

On May 5, the United States announced it was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the Middle East in response to a "credible threat" from Iran.

Last Friday, the Pentagon announced the deployment of the amphibious assault ship the USS Arlington and a Patriot missile battery to the region.

Washington reiterated that intelligence reports suggested Iran was planning some sort of attack in the region.

According to El Pais, the USS Abraham Lincoln is currently heading for the Strait of Hormuz, through which it will enter the Gulf -- the stretch of water separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula.

But the newspaper said it would cross the strait without the Spanish frigate.

"Spain does not want to be dragged involuntarily into a conflict with Iran," the paper reported.

The spike in tensions comes a week after Iran announced it was suspending some of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement. That came a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and slapped tough sanctions on the Islamic republic.

On Sunday and Monday, US allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said oil tankers belonging to them had been damaged in "sabotage attacks" in the Gulf. Neither country released further details.

No link has officially been drawn between the incidents and US accusations concerning "imminent" attacks by Tehran against US interests in the region.

Britain, France and Germany on Monday urged the US not to further escalate tensions over the Iran nuclear deal.