Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 July 2019

UK 'almost certain' Iranian military was behind oil tanker attacks

Middle East minister Andrew Murrison said it was important to continue dialogue with Tehran to de-escalate the tension

An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS
An oil tanker is seen after it was attacked at the Gulf of Oman, in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran, June 13, 2019. ISNA/Handout via REUTERS

The UK is “almost certain” that the Iranian military was behind last Thursday’s attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the British Middle East Minister said.

Addressing questions from MPs in Commons, Foreign Office and Middle East Minister Andrew Murrison called for de-escalation in the region.

Mr Murrison stressed that communication was crucial to ensure there was no misunderstanding between London and Tehran.

“I think talking is important, because if we don’t talk there’s a risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and nowhere is that more likely than in our dealings with Iran, with whom we have not always enjoyed cordial relations,” he said.

Mr Murrison said that if Europe and the US tried to “de-escalate the situation”, vessels in the Gulf and in international waters would be protected, as would people based in the region.

“We are on the right track and they desire to see us de-escalate this matter, so a problem doesn’t become a full-blown crisis,” he said.

Mr Murrison said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday about the situation between Iran and the West.

He said he hoped to go to Tehran “very soon”.

Mr Murrison would not disclose more information on UK and US intelligence about Iran, but said “we are quite clear where the blame lies" for the recent oil tanker attacks.

Some MPs have called for an independent investigation into the attacks, but he said this was up to the owners of the vessels as it occurred in international waters.

The UK is assisting the investigation in the May 12 attack on four oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah, Mr Murrison said.

He said the Foreign Office also believed Iran was also behind that attack.

The US on Monday night said it would send 1,000 extra troops to the Middle East to counter Iranian threats after three rockets struck a military base in Iraq that is hosting American troops.

Although the UK and US have been quick to hold Tehran to account for the oil tanker attacks, the EU has been more cautious.

The bloc said it was examining intelligence supplied by the US and UK over the attacks, stopping short of backing the allies’ conclusions that Iran was responsible.

Updated: June 18, 2019 09:02 AM

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