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Iran summons UK envoy over ‘unfounded’ accusations in oil tanker attacks

British ambassador is asked for explanation and correction after UK is only nation to echo US accusations against Tehran
Fire and smoke billow from Norwegian-owned tanker Front Altair, said to have been attacked in Gulf of Oman on 13 June (AFP)

Iran on Saturday summoned the British ambassador to Tehran after London blamed it for attacks on two oil tankers earlier this week in the Gulf of Oman, the semi-official Students News Agency ISNA reported.

"Rob Macaire, Britain's ambassador to Tehran, was summoned to the foreign affairs ministry... following the false remarks made by the British foreign affairs minister," the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency and quoted by AFP.

"During the meeting with Iran's foreign ministry officials, Iran strongly condemned the unfounded allegations and criticised Britain's unacceptable stance regarding the attacks in the Gulf of Oman," ISNA said, as quoted by Reuters.

The ambassador was asked for an explanation and correction after Britain was the only nation to echo US accusations, ISNA said.

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British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt issued a statement on Friday blaming Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for the 13 June attacks, saying no other state or non-state actor could have been responsible. Iran has denied any involvement.

The United States blamed Iran for attacks on two tankers heading out from Saudi and Emirati ports in the Gulf of Oman, but provided no concrete evidence to back up the assertion.

In a news briefing on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had assessed that Iran was responsible for the incident.

Pompeo said the assessment was "based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication".

Still, the leader of Britain's main opposition party questioned whether the government had evidence to back up its accusations that Iran was behind the attacks and warned against escalating tensions.

"Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government's rhetoric will only increase the threat of war," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote on Twitter late on Friday.

"Britain should act to ease tensions in the Gulf, not fuel a military escalation that began with US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement," he said, referring to Washington's withdrawal from a 2015 pact to curb Tehran's nuclear plans.

The attacks have raised fears of a confrontation in the vital oil shipping route of the Strait of Hormuz at a time of increased tension between Iran and the United States.