In remarks to the Financial Times, the Iranian ambassador cautioned that an escalation “doesn’t help anybody.” He told the British paper that London’s decision to blame the Islamic republic for last week’s assault on the MV Mercer Street was a “very premature reaction.”
Iran and the UK both summoned each other’s ambassadors amid heightened tensions over the attack on the Israeli ship.
The Israeli-operated ship Mercer Street came under attack off the coast of Oman on Thursday while traveling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah. The oil tanker, managed by Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Maritime, was reportedly attacked by suicide drones. Zodiac Maritime said two crewmen, a British and Romanian national, died in the attack.
“With profound sadness, we understand the incident onboard the M/T Mercer Street on 29 July, 2021 has resulted in the deaths of two crew members on board,” the UK-based Israeli company said in a statement on Friday afternoon, a day after the attack.
Israel, the U.S. and the UK blamed Iran for the attack without presenting any evidence to support their accusations.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed that Tel Aviv knows with certainty Iran attacked the Mercer Street ship and will respond to it.
“I determine, with absolute certainty – Iran carried out the attack against the ship,” Bennett stated, according to the Jerusalem Post. “The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake.”
London also summoned the Iranian ambassador to the UK. “The Iranian Ambassador to the UK, Mohsen Baharvand, was summoned today to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office by the Minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly, in response to the unlawful attack committed on MV Mercer Street on 29 July,” the UK Foreign Office said in a statement.
Iran responded by summoning the British charge d’affaires in Tehran, in the absence of the country’s ambassador, to protest the anti-Iran accusations leveled by the British foreign secretary.
During the Monday meeting, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s third department of Western Europe expressed regret about the unfounded accusation by the British top diplomat, and said, “These hasty, contradictory remarks made without any evidence or proof are rejected and strongly condemned.”
“This is not the first time Britain levels hasty and unsubstantiated accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran. This country [Britain] had in some instances in the past also accused Iran of actions that were never proven and no proof or evidence was presented to support them.”
The Iranian official also underlined Iran’s efforts to ensure and strengthen security in the Persian Gulf, stressing that Tehran considers the waterway a secure route for the innocent passage of vessels.
“The source of instability in the Persian Gulf is not Iran; it is rather the presence of warships and military forces of countries from outside the region,” he pointed out.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry official also warned against any adventurism by the occupying regime of Israel or others in the region. He said Iran’s definite policy is defending itself and giving a crushing, timely and proportionate response to any act of adventurism.
The British charge d’affaires also pledged to promptly convey the proceedings to London.
Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh warned the UK about accusations against Iran. Khatibzadeh strongly condemned and deeply regretted the baseless accusations made by the British foreign secretary against the Islamic Republic, which were repeated by the U.S. secretary of state in the same context and contained contradictory, false and provocative accusations.
“Such coordinated statements (from Britain and the U.S.) include contradictory phrases per se, in a way that they first level accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran without providing any evidence and document and then talk about the ‘possibility’ of this,” Khatibzadeh said on Monday.
The spokesman described Iran as an advocate and supporter of the safe navigation of ships in the Persian Gulf and international waters, and said as a country that has the longest sea borders in the Persian Gulf, Iran is always prepared for cooperation with regional countries to ensure maritime security.
He also noted that Iran considers the presence and interference of the extra-regional forces in the Persian Gulf waters and its littoral states to be harmful to the region’s stability and security.
“It is a pity that these countries (the U.S. and Britain) have remained supportively silent about the terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage against Iranian trade vessels in the Red Sea and international waters, but have raised bogus allegations against Iran with political bias in a brazen manner. If these countries have any evidence for their bogus claims, they should present them,” he added.
Khatibzadeh finally noted that Iran has no hesitation in protecting its security and national interests and will respond promptly and strongly to any possible adventure.
Also on Monday, the spokesman warned on Twitter, “As guarantor of Persian Gulf security, Iran strongly condemns provocative & orchestrated UK/US statements. Having kept silent abt REPEATED terrorist attacks on IRANIAN ships, they now baselessly accuse IRAN. Any anti-Iran adventurism will receive IMMEDIATE & DECISIVE response.”
Speaking hours after he was summoned to the Foreign Office over the incident, Baharvand pointed out that the dispute should not damage relations between the two countries or derail talks with the UK and other nations designed to revive the nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers.
“We understand one of the UK’s citizens has lost a life and that is for everybody a regrettable act, but that doesn’t mean you can put the blame immediately on one country. You have to investigate the case, you have to have evidence,” Baharvand said. “We are not for escalating — escalation doesn’t help anybody.”
Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, said on Monday that Iran “should face up to the consequences of what they’ve done”. He described the incident as “an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping.”
Baharvand, a former deputy foreign minister for international and legal affairs, said the nuclear deal was a “very special case” with its own process and the talks on the accord “should not be affected by anything.”
He said that the talks, held in Vienna, had made “very good progress”. But he added three key requests by Iran: for a guarantee that the U.S. could not unilaterally abandon the deal in the future; for sanctions to be lifted; and for the talks to not be linked to Iran’s missile program or its regional policies.
Baharvand suggested that Israel, which is vehemently opposed to the nuclear deal, was stoking tensions in the region.
The Iranian ambassador said Israel had attacked 11 Iranian merchant vessels this year. “If you are worried about the trade [and] shipping you have to see what is happening there,” he said. “Israel is nervous about the JCPOA [the nuclear deal]. They are nervous about the power of Iran.” tehran times reported.