US close to 'dangerous military confrontation', warns senior Iranian diplomat

Kim Sengupta

America is getting “dragged into a dangerous military confrontation” with Iran by an alliance of malign states in the Middle East and hawks in the Trump administration, one of Tehran’s most senior diplomats has charged as tensions continue to rise in the region.

The leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the US President’s National Security Advisor were singled by the Iranian ambassador to Britain as those supposedly attempting to orchestrate a conflict.

The accusation came in the wake of the deployment of an US aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf and Mr Trump’s acting Defence Secretary, Patrick Shanahan, reportedly presenting a military contingency plan for an Iran conflict at a meeting of senior national security officials.

The plan, was drawn up on the orders of Mr Bolton, according to the New York Times, involved sending more than 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Tehran carries out attacks on US forces or speeds up its development of nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump, however, claimed the New York Times report was " fake news". He said: "We'd send hell of a lot more troops than that" if a plan was to be drawn up for a war with Iran.

Meanwhile there were reports in Washington that American investigators believe that Iran or its armed proxy group attacked four oil tankers in the area, using explosives to cause severe damage to the vessels. Iran has strongly disclaimed any involvement.

Hamid Baedinejad, the Iranian ambassador said: “Unfortunately there are people in the region advising Donald Trump, those our ministers call the ‘B team’, who have adopted a policy of confrontation and initiatives to drag the US into a confrontation with Iran in collaboration with John Bolton.

“The question is whether there are people in Washington who would be able to avoid falling into this trap.

“These people trying for confrontation have been very active in this area. We believe this is a total mistake and a total miscalculation. We hope they understand that they are playing a very dangerous game and it may have consequences for them.

“We hope that this stops and people start behaving in a responsible way.”

No evidence has been produced so far to show Iranian involvement, but the attacks have escalated tension with an expanding military presence in and around the Strait of Hormuz which provides passage for tankers carrying a fifth of the oil consumed globally each year.

Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates have stopped short of directly blaming Iran for the attacks, which Tehran has condemned as “dreadful” with a parliamentary spokesman holding that Israel was a prime suspect for carrying them out.

Unfortunately there are people in the region advising Donald Trump, those our ministers call the ‘B team’, who have adopted a policy of confrontation

Hamid Baedinejad

Last week the US administration maintained that it has “specific and credible” intelligence indicating that Iran or its allies were preparing assaults against American targets in the area. Mr Trump threatened that “there’s going to a bad problem for Iran if something happens”. The intelligence warning, according to security and diplomatic officials, came from Israel.

Mr Baedinejad insisted that Iran was fully aware of the build up of American forces and had been extremely careful to avoid any possibility of clashes.

“The military presence of the US is very high in the region, we know that, and we know that any miscalculation would be very damaging,” he said.

“But let me tell you frankly that after this military preparation by the US we were actually expecting there would be some incidents, because there are people in Washington and elsewhere trying to drag the US into a military confrontation, trying to find some pretext to do so, maybe shape public opinion for some action.”

The ambassador denied any Iranian involvement in the tanker attacks. “We don’t know who did this, we need to find evidence. But we are very suspicious of what happened. Hours after media reports on this, the UAE declined to comment, they rejected this has happened at all. But then suddenly there was a concerted effort to channelize the news that Iran and ‘proxies’ were likely to be engaged in this. We don’t know who is coordinating it, but we find it all very suspicious” he said.

The theme of agent provocateurs attempting to ferment a conflict was echoed by other senior Iranian officials.

Heshmatollah Falahat Pisheh, the head of the country’s National Security Foreign Policy Committee stated: “Iran and the United States can manage the crisis by themselves.

But there are third parties who might make the atmosphere of the region more sensitive in terms of security by making deviant moves. There are different groups whose goal is to make the region unsafe. Therefore, there must be red lines between Iran and the United States in the management of the events which prevents third parties from making crises."

Iran’s Foreign Minister claimed “extremist individuals” in the US of pursuing dangerous policies.

Speaking during a visit to New Delhi, Mohammad Javad Zarif said he had discussed the issue in a meeting with Indian officials. “In this meeting there was also discussion of the worries about the actions and suspicious sabotage in the region.

And we announced that we had predicted these kinds of actions for provoking tension in the region before....We discussed regional issues and the dangers of the policies, extremist individuals in the American government and the region are trying to impose on the region.”