Iran urges UN to launch talks over 'alarming' Gulf tensions

In letter to UN chief, Iran's ambassador calls for talks between Tehran and Gulf countries to ease rising tensions.

    An F/A-18E Super Hornet is launched from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea [Jeff Sherman/US Navy via Reuters]
    An F/A-18E Super Hornet is launched from the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea [Jeff Sherman/US Navy via Reuters]

    Iran has urged the United Nations to help launch a diplomatic dialogue to ease an "alarming security situation" in the Gulf.

    Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran's ambassador to the UN, made the appeal in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council on Monday.

    The letter came as tensions mounted between Iran on one side and United States and its Gulf allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, on the other.

    On Sunday, US President Donald Trump warned Tehran of its "official end" should it threaten Washington. A day later, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced Trump's "genocidal taunts" and urged the US to address the Islamic Republic with respect and not threats of war.

    In Monday's letter, Ravanchi warned that "the eruption of any possible conflict will soon cross over from the regional level and will definitely have serious and extensive implications on international peace and security."

    The ambassador added that Iran "will never choose war," but that "if war is imposed on us, Iran will vigorously exercise its inherent right to self-defence".

    'Win-win situation'

    The latest escalation began earlier this month with the Trump's administration's deployment of bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Middle East. It cited unspecified threats from Iran for the move, which Tehran dismissed as "psychological warfare". 

    In the ensuing days, officials in the United Arab Emirates alleged that four oil tankers sustained damage in a sabotage attack; Yemeni rebels allied with Iran launched a drone attack on an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia; and US diplomats relayed a warning that commercial airlines could be misidentified by Iran and attacked, something dismissed by Tehran.

    Then on Sunday, a rocket was fired into the Green Zone of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, which houses government offices and embassies including the US mission. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.

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    The tensions are the culmination of Trump's decision a year ago to pull the US out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. While both Washington and Tehran say they are not seeking war, many worry any miscalculation could spiral out of control.

    Ravanchi said the UN must not remain indifferent "to addressing the root causes of the current state of affairs".

    He accused "certain circles from outside of this region" of provocative policies and escalating tensions in the Gulf.

    Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said the Iranian ambassador did not mention the US in his appeal for dialogue.

    "Iran is proposing what it calls a win-win situation - talks or constructive engagement between Iran and the Gulf countries," he said. "Iran is saying this forum is something Guterres could convene very easily ... Iran is trying to show here that it's the reasonable one."

    Rising rhetoric

    Earlier on Monday, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric voiced concern over the rising rhetoric between Washington and Tehran and urged both sides to dial down their remarks.

    "We would ask all parties to lower the rhetoric and lower the threshold of action, as well," he said.

    UN officials are holding contacts with the US and Iran at various levels to try to calm the situation, said Dujarric, without providing details of the talks.

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    The US president took to Twitter again on Monday, saying Washington has not tried to contact Iran for talks and that if the Islamic Republic wants to negotiate, it will have to take the first step.

    "Iran will call us if and when they are ever ready. In the meantime, their economy continues to collapse - very sad for the Iranian people!" Trump said.

    Separately, Oman's minister of state for foreign affairs made a previously unannounced visit on Monday to Tehran, seeing Zarif, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported.

    The visit by Yusuf bin Alawi comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said last week. Oman long has served as a Western backchannel to Tehran and the sultanate hosted secret talks between the US and Iran that laid the groundwork for the nuclear deal negotiations.

    Saudi Arabia has called for emergency regional talks to discuss the mounting Gulf tensions. On Saturday, Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's minister of state for foreign affairs, said Riyadh "does not want a war, is not looking for it and will do everything to prevent it".

    However, "if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with strength and determination to defend itself and its interests," he said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies