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Iran warns 'the region will be set on fire' if US or allies mount attack

Remarks from armed forces spokesman comes as Trump warns Tehran of 'obliteration' if there is a conflict
Iran has said it is not seeking a war but has warned of a "crushing" response if attacked (AFP)

Iran has warned the United States that any aggression against it would have serious consequences for US interests across the Middle East, amid escalating tension between Tehran and Washington over the shooting down of an unmanned American drone by the Islamic Republic.

"Firing one bullet towards Iran will set fire to the interests of America and its allies," armed forces general staff spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday.

"Today, the situation in the region is to Iran's advantage.

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"If the enemy, especially America and its allies in the region, make the military mistake of shooting the powder keg on which America's interests lie, the region will be set on fire," Shekarchi warned

Tehran said the US Global Hawk surveillance drone was shot down over its territory early on Thursday, while Washington said it had occurred in international airspace.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he aborted a military strike to retaliate for the drone's downing because it could have killed 150 people, and signalled he was open to talks with Tehran.

"Regardless of any decision they [US officials] make ... we will not allow any of Iran's borders to be violated," said Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, also speaking to Tasnim on Saturday.
 
"Iran will firmly confront any aggression or threat by America." 

Iranian sources told the Reuters news agency that Trump had warned Tehran via Oman that a US attack was imminent, but he had said he was against war and wanted talks.

"I'm not looking for war, and if there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before. But I'm not looking to do that," Trump told NBC News in an interview aired on Friday night.

Tehran has also said it is not seeking a war but has warned of a "crushing" response if attacked.

The US has asked the United Nations Security Council to meet on Iran behind closed doors on Monday, diplomats said on Friday.

"We will brief the council on the latest developments with regard to Iran and present further information from our investigation into the recent tanker incidents," the US mission to the UN said in a note to council colleagues, seen by Reuters.

Iran's foreign ministry summoned a United Arab Emirates envoy to complain about Abu Dhabi allowing the US drone shot down on Thursday to be launched from a US military base on its territory, the Fars news agency said on Saturday.

Britain's Middle East minister Andrew Murrison will visit Iran on Sunday for "frank and constructive" talks, the UK Foreign Office said in a statement on Saturday, amid the escalating tensions in the area.

"At this time of increased regional tensions and at a crucial period for the future of the nuclear deal, this visit is an opportunity for further open, frank and constructive engagement with the government of Iran," the Foreign Office said.

'Flying object' could have been reconnaissance drone

Tensions began to worsen significantly when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions on the country. The sanctions had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear programme.

Iran has threatened to breach the deal if the European signatories to the deal fail to salvage it by shielding Tehran from US sanctions.

"The Europeans will not be given more time beyond 8 July to save the deal," Mousavi told Tasnim, referring to Iran's deadline of 60 days that Tehran announced in May. 

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Iran's main regional rival, Saudi Arabia, and the US have blamed Iran for attacks on two tankers last week in the Gulf of Oman, and on four more off the United Arab Emirates on 12 May, both near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies.

Iran has denied any involvement in those incidents.

A "flying object" which flew over a Japanese tanker before it was rocked by a blast in last week's attack could have been a reconnaissance drone, experts have told the AFP news agency.

The owner of the Kokuka Courageous said the tanker's Japanese and Filipino crew saw a "flying object" just before a blast that caused a fire on board the vessel.

"When we observe the evidence, it is not something caused by an object impacting the vessel," says Jean-Louis Vichot, a former director of the French Naval Academy and retired vice admiral.

"It is in fact a footprint of a limpet mine, one that has not exploded," he said.

"The crew spoke of a drone ... maybe a device sent on a reconnaissance mission," Vichot added.

Conversation with Saudi crown prince

Trump spoke on Friday to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman about Middle East stability and the oil market, the White House said, after the tensions with Iran prompted a rise in oil prices.

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"The two leaders discussed Saudi Arabia's critical role in ensuring stability in the Middle East and in the global oil market," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

"They also discussed the threat posed by the Iranian regime's escalatory behaviour." 

There was no word from the White House statement on whether Trump raised with the crown prince the death last October of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A 100-page report by the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, earlier this week accused Saudi Arabia of a "deliberate, premeditated execution" and said the crown prince should be investigated for it.