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US turning Gulf region into 'tinderbox' - Iran's Zarif

Iraq, which maintains good relations with both Washington and Tehran, cautioned on Monday that the deployment of Western forces was fueling regional tension.

FILE: Iran Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari talks with Belgian Foreign minister before their meeting at the Palais Egmont in Brussels on 11 January 2018. Picture: AFP

DUBAI - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States on Monday of turning the Gulf region into a “matchbox ready to ignite”, according to Al Jazeera television.

Oil tanker traffic passing through the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz has become the focus of a US-Iranian standoff since Washington pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.

After explosions that damaged six tankers in May and June and Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in July, the United States launched a maritime security mission in the Gulf, joined by Britain, to protect merchant vessels.

Zarif, in interview remarks cited by Qatar-based Al Jazeera, said the Strait “is narrow, it will become less safe as foreign (navy) vessels increase their presence in it”.

“The region has become a matchbox ready to ignite because America and its allies are flooding it with weapons,” he said.

Zarif, who arrived on Sunday in Doha, met on Monday with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani for talks to convey that message, Iranian state-run media reported.

Qatar, which hosts one of the biggest US military bases in the Middle East, is trying not to be drawn into the escalating conflict between Washington and Tehran.

Iraq, which maintains good relations with both Washington and Tehran, cautioned on Monday that the deployment of Western forces was fueling regional tension.

“The states of the Gulf can together secure the transit of ships,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim said on Twitter. “Iraq is seeking to reduce tension in our region through calm negotiations...The presence of Western forces in the region will increase tension,” he said.

Last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the British tanker, Stena Impero near the Strait for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.

The tanker dispute has tangled Britain in the diplomatic dispute between the EU’s big powers - which want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal - and the United States which has pushed for a tougher policy on Iran.

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