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Iran Warns Against A European Naval Force To Protect Ships In Persian Gulf

File photo - IRGC speed boats in Persian Gulf

Iran on Sunday condemned as "provocative" a British proposal for a European-led naval mission to escort tankers in the Persian Gulf, amid soaring tensions over the seizure of ships.

"We heard that they intend to send a European fleet to the Persian Gulf which naturally carries a hostile message, is provocative and will increase tensions," said government spokesman Ali Rabiei.

Britain had said on July 22 it was planning a European-led force to escort tankers through the Strait of Hormuz, in response to Iran's seizure of a UK-flagged vessel on July 19.

The capture of the Stena Impero came two weeks after British authorities detained an Iranian tanker -- the Grace 1 -- off its overseas territory Gibraltar, on allegations it was breaching EU sanctions by transporting oil to Syria.

In his comments on Sunday, the government spokesman said Iran believed the security of the oil-rich Gulf had to be maintained by countries in the region.

"We are the biggest agent of maritime security in the Persian Gulf," Rabiei said, quoted by ISNA news agency.

There have also been attacks on oik tankers in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz in May and June, believed to have been organized by Iran.

But Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said a force like that proposed by the UK would only make matters worse.

"The presence of foreign forces will not help the region's security and will be the main source of tensions," Rouhani said after talks in Tehran with Oman's minister in charge of foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi.

Alawi said the Sultanate, which maintains cordial ties with both Iran and Britain, was not mediating on the issue.

But he said Muscat was "concerned" about security in the Strait and was "in contact with all parties".

"Any error or miscalculated move could hamper navigation in international waters and harm everyone," he told state broadcaster Oman TV after meeting with Rouhani.

Britain on Thursday ordered its navy to escort UK-flagged ships through the Strait, where the Stena Impero was seized by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

But it has so far only received a cool response from the continent to its proposal for a multi-national escort fleet that would exclude the United States.

France said on Thursday it was not willing to send extra military assets to the Persian Gulf, but would share information and coordinate its currently deployed assets.

The U.S. military has said it is already monitoring the area and developing a "multinational maritime effort" dubbed Operation Sentinel to increase surveillance and security in key Middle East waterways.

Rouhani said Washington sparked the crisis when it pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, known by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"The unfortunate incidents and tensions in the region today have their roots in the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA agreement and the delusions of the country's administration," the Iranian president said.

"Iran will strongly stand against any wrongdoing and illegal activity that would threaten maritime security in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman," ISNA quoted him as saying.

Reporting by AFP