'Great risk' of drift towards war in Middle East after tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman incident, Jeremy Hunt warns

Adam Forrest

There is a “great risk” of a drift towards war in the middle east, Jeremy Hunt has warned after a series of attacks on oil tankers.

The foreign secretary said the government was “almost certain” that Iran was behind last week’s attacks on two oil ships in Gulf of Oman after an assessment by British intelligence services.

Tehran has denied it was responsible and Mr Hunt claimed the US wanted the dispute to “end in negotiations”.

Asked if war was possible on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Hunt said: “This is the great risk ... Both sides in this dispute think that the other side wouldn’t want a war. We are urging all sides to de-escalate.”

He added: “Having spoken to President Trump, I am absolutely clear that for America they want this to end in negotiations.”

He added he UK had done our "own intelligence assessment and the phrase we used is almost certain ... We don’t believe anyone else could have done this.”

Mr Hunt said he wanted to see Iran “stop its destabilising activities in Lebanon through Hezbollah, in Yemen where they are firing missiles into Saudi Arabia, on the Gulf as we have seen – that is the long-term solution”.

Iranian authorities meanwhile, said they were preparing to reduce its commitments under the 2015 international nuclear pact, which the US withdrew from last year.

“Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation ... will announce preparatory steps that have been taken to further decrease Tehran's commitments under the deal,” a state news agency reported.

Iran summoned the British ambassador to Tehran after the UK blamed it for the attacks on oil tankers, the semi-official Students News Agency ISNA reported, a claim denied by the British government.

Rob Macaire said his request for a meeting was granted and rejected reports that he was ordered by Iranian officials to explain Britain's position.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has warned against blaming Iran for oil tanker attacks without “credible evidence” and claimed the government’s rhetoric risked escalating conflict with Tehran.

Mr Hunt described that response as “pathetic and predictable … From Salisbury to the Middle East, why can he never bring himself to back British allies, British intelligence or British interests?”

The foreign secretary – one of six remaining Conservative candidates to replace Theresa May at No. 10 – also claimed he was the alternative to frontrunner Boris Johnson.

Mr Hunt said he would attempt to win a new Brexit deal from the EU, claiming leaders in the bloc were “willing to renegotiate the package”.

He said: “The difference between me and Boris, is that I would try for a deal. I am not going to create a set of circumstances that makes it all but impossible to get a deal because I think we should be offering the country some better choices.”

The candidate said it could still be done by the deadline of 31 October, but added that it would be a mistake to commit to leaving the EU by that date.

“I am not committing to a 31 October hard-stop at any costs. If you do make that guarantee and you go with the wrong approach, then you are committing us to nothing other than a hard Brexit, a no-deal Brexit,” he said.