Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says any presence of foreign forces in the Persian Gulf will only cause even more tension in the region, amid reports that the UK and the US are pushing for a joint force to escort oil tankers as they pass through the Strait of Hormuz off Iran.
“Iran makes constant efforts to ensure the Sea of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz remain safe passageways for international shipping,” he said during a meeting with visiting Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi in Tehran on Sunday.
“The presence of foreign forces wouldn’t help the regional security, and if anything, it would actually be the main source of tension,” he added.
The remarks come as both the UK and the US are leading two sharply different plans for patrols in the Persian Gulf.
Washington has been pushing for a scheme whereby nations protect their own ships but partake in joint operations to monitor the waterways to prevent incidents.
The administration of US President Donald Trump claims that the patrols are needed to protect the ships from threats it says are coming from Iran, following several mysterious attacks that damaged oil tankers and cargo ships in the Sea of Oman over the past weeks.
The US and some of its allies have blamed Iran for the attacks, a claim Tehran has vehemently denied. Iranian officials have warned countries in the region to watch out for false flags by “foreign players.”
The UK, on the other hand, has been trying to put together a European force to protect vessels moving through the Strait of Hormuz, after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker this month for attempting to flee the scene of a collision with an Iranian fishing boat in violation of international rules.
Tensions flared up between London and Tehran after the UK navy seized Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 in Gibraltar, claiming that it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of the European Union’s sanctions against Damascus.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Rouhani told the Omani top diplomat that London’s move was illegal and would prove “costly” for them.
“Iran continues to stand against any breaches of law that endangers the safety of shipping in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman,” the Iranian president asserted.
He argued that all of the regional issues were connected and, therefore, every government in the region needed to help maintain peace and stability there.
Reconstructing Syria and paving the way for Syrian refugees to return, ending the Saudi-led war on Yemen and stopping Israel’s ongoing crimes against the people of Palestine were some of the key issues that he said had to be resolved.
The Iranian president said Tehran has never started tensions in the region, unlike the American officials, whom he accused of causing frictions with their “delusions” and their decision to leave the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Bin Alawi, for his part, said Oman and Iran needed to overcome all challenges and help keep the region secure.
He emphasized that without Iran it was not possible to keep the region safe.
Meanwhile, the Omani foreign minister on Sunday rejected rumors that he had transferred a message from the US and the UK to Iranian official during his trip to Tehran.
Muscat, he said, played no mediatory role in Tehran with regards to the latest wave of tensions gripping the region.
The top Omani diplomat added that all sides need be in contact in order to prevent further incidents in the Strait of Hormuz and safeguard international shipping lines.