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Jeremy Hunt insists he is dealing with ‘extremely serious’ Iran crisis

He was warned he cannot be ‘completely absent from the stage’.

Conservative party leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt during his visit to Peterhead in Aberdeenshire (PA)
Conservative party leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt during his visit to Peterhead in Aberdeenshire (PA)

Jeremy Hunt has insisted he is doing what he can amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.

The Foreign Secretary was warned he cannot be “completely absent from the stage” by David Miliband, who described the situation as a “pressing global threat to peace and security”.

Mr Hunt, who is battling to become the next prime minister, said he is speaking to counterparts “regularly” about the Iran crisis which he called “extremely serious”.

Foreign Office minister Andrew Murrison held talks with the Tehran government at the weekend where he said he was “clear” about the UK’s concerns over Iran’s activities.

He said: “This visit has provided an important opportunity for open, frank and constructive engagement with the Iranian Government.

“In Tehran I was clear about the UK’s long-held concerns over Iran’s activities in the region.

“I reiterated the UK’s assessment that Iran almost certainly bears responsibility for recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

“Such activity, which carries a high risk of miscalculation, needs to stop to allow for immediate de-escalation of rising tensions.

“And I was clear that the UK will continue to play its full part alongside international partners to find diplomatic solutions to reduce the current tensions.

“I reiterated the UK’s determination to maintain the nuclear deal which is in our shared security interests.

“I was clear that Iran must continue to meet its commitments under the deal in full – including the limits imposed on its low-enriched uranium stockpile.

“While in Tehran, I also pressed again on behalf of the UK Government for the urgent and unconditional release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and all British-Iranian dual nationals who are being arbitrarily detained.”

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Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of detained Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, outside the Iranian Embassy in Knightsbridge (PA)

The trip was announced after Donald Trump said the US was “cocked and loaded” to retaliate against Iran for downing an American drone.

The strikes were reportedly called off 10 minutes before they were to be carried out on Thursday after Mr Trump was told 150 people could die.

On Saturday, a spokesman for Iran’s armed forces warned that a military strike would “set the region ablaze and burn up the US, its interests, and its allies”.

Mr Trump later tweeted that the US will impose “major additional sanctions” on Iran on Monday after opting to halt military action “from going forward at this time”.

Former Labour foreign secretary Mr Miliband told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “The current Foreign Secretary has real responsibilities at the moment.

“I don’t think we can afford him to be completely absent from the stage. Britain is a permanent member of the security council. This is a pressing global threat to peace and security.

“We’re relying on the caution of President Trump to keep the hawks at bay in his own administration.”

Responding to what Mr Miliband said, Mr Hunt wrote on Twitter: “Agree, and thankfully I’m not. Speaking regularly to my counterparts on this subject, including Sec Pompeo, have sent a minister to the region, and will be updating Parliament on Tuesday. Extremely serious situation.”

Mr Trump pulled out of a long-term deal struck with Iran in 2015 to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The deal was signed by his predecessor Barack Obama along with the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany, which still support the agreement.

But Mr Trump declared it a “terrible” deal and imposed more sanctions.

Tensions between the US and Iran have increased in recent weeks amid claims by Washington that Tehran has been behind attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Dr Murrison’s visit took place amid continuing tension between London and Tehran over the treatment of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen who has been detained in Iran since April 2016 accused of spreading propaganda against Iran.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe has been on a hunger strike outside the Iranian Embassy in London in support of his wife who is also on hunger strike.

Speaking about Dr Murrison’s visit to Iran, Mr Ratcliffe told the Press Association on Saturday: “I’ve been asked how hopeful I am. I’m not sure if I’m hopeful, but certainly will be watching very closely to see how things develop and what comes back.”

PA

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