Britain’s ambassador to Iran sought an urgent meeting with the country’s Foreign Ministry after the UK broadly backed the US in blaming Tehran for attacks on oil tankers.
Rob Macaire said his request was granted and rejected reports that he was ordered by Iranian officials to explain Britain’s position.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK’s own assessment of Thursday’s events in the Gulf of Oman led British officials to conclude that responsibility for the attacks “almost certainly lies with Iran”.
However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Britain should not act without “credible evidence” Iran was behind attacks on the two oil tankers, which dramatically heightened tensions in the region.
News website Iran Front Page said Mr Macaire had been summoned by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, whose Europe minister had reportedly “expressed Tehran’s strong protest to the British Government’s unacceptable anti-Iran stances”.
Mr Macaire tweeted in response: “Interesting. And news to me. I asked for an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministry yesterday and it was granted. No ‘summons’. Of course if formally summoned I would always respond, as would all Ambassadors.”
The US alleges Iran used limpet mines to target the tankers, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured which American officials describe as Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous.
The Japanese tanker’s crew members described “flying objects” as having targeted the vessel, seemingly contradicting the assertion that limpet mines were used.
The alleged attack happened at the same time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Iran.
On Sunday Saudi Arabia joined the US and UK in blaming Iran, with the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman saying Riyadh “won’t hesitate” to tackle any threats.
Tehran has strongly denied responsibility for the attack, which Mr Hunt said built on “a pattern of destabilising Iranian behaviour and pose a serious danger to the region”.
In a statement, the Foreign Office said “no other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible” for the incident.
In response, Mr Corbyn tweeted: “Britain should act to ease tensions in the Gulf, not fuel a military escalation that began with US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.
“Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the Government’s rhetoric will only increase the threat of war.”
Mr Hunt accused the Labour leader of “virulent anti-Americanism”.
“For Jeremy Corbyn it’s all America’s fault. This is the same man by the way who refused to condemn Putin after the Salisbury Novichok attacks,” he said.
“I’m afraid this shows that Labour is in the grip of virulent anti-Americanism that will be incredibly dangerous for our country if they ever took control.”