US turning Gulf region into a tinderbox


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States 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 is the focus of a US-Iranian standoff since Washington pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran.
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 met 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 largest 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 the deployment of Western forces was fuelling regional tension.
“The states of the Gulf can together secure 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”.
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 off Gibraltar, accusing it of violating Syrian sanctions.
The tanker dispute 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 is pushing for a tougher policy on Iran.