Jeremy Hunt 'very worried' US-Iran tensions could lead to war in Middle East

Jeremy Hunt 'very worried' US-Iran tensions could lead to war in Middle East

Jeremy Hunt said Monday he was “very worried” that mounting tensions between Iran and the US could lead to an unintended war in the Middle East, amid Saudi claims that several of its oil tankers had been sabotaged in the Persian Gulf.

Tensions between the US and Iran are at their highest point in years, with US moving to choke off all Iranian oil exports through sanctions and warning that it had intelligence Iran was preparing attacks on US interests in the Middle East.

Iran has threatened that in 60 days it will violate the 2015 nuclear agreement and resume enriching the kind of high-grade uranium needed for a nuclear weapon unless the world finds a way to ease the impact of US sanctions.  

Speaking in Brussels, the UK foreign secretary called for a “period of calm” to avoid an unintended escalation between the two sides. 

“We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended on either side but ends with some kind of conflict,” Mr Hunt said.  

“What we need is a period of calm to make sure everyone understands what the other side is thinking and most of all we need to make sure we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to re-nuclearisation.

“Because if Iran becomes a nuclear power its neighbours are likely to want to become nuclear powers, this is already the most unstable region in the world and this would be a massive step in the wrong direction.” 

He spoke hours after Saudi Arabia said two of its Saudi oil tankers were among vessels targeted by a "sabotage attack" off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, condemning it as an attempt to undermine the security of global crude supplies.

The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world's largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz.

It did not say who was behind the operation, which took place amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.

Iran's foreign ministry called the incidents "worrisome and dreadful" and asked for an investigation into the matter.

The strait, a vital global oil and gas shipping route, separates the Gulf states and Iran, which has been embroiled in an escalating war of words with the United States over sanctions and the US military's presence in the region.

Oil prices rose on Monday, with Brent crude futures trading at $70.98 a barrel at 0618 GMT.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement that one of the two Saudi vessels attacked was on its way to be loaded with Saudi crude from Ras Tanura port for delivery to state-owned Saudi Aramco's customers in the United States.

The attack did not lead to any casualties or an oil spill but caused significant damage to the vessels' structures, said the statement.

Intertanko, an association of independent tanker owners and operators, said in a note that it has seen pictures showing that "at least two ships have holes in their sides due to the impact of a weapon".

Trading and shipping sources identified the Saudi vessels as Bahri-owned very large crude carrier tanker Amjad and crude tanker Al Marzoqah. Bahri did not respond to a request for comment.

The UAE foreign ministry has said there were no casualties and the Fujairah port operations were normal. An investigation had been launched in coordination with international authorities, it said, calling on global powers to prevent any parties trying to harm maritime safety and security.

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