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Britain warns US-Iran conflict could break out 'by accident'

AP  |  Brussels 

Britain warned Monday that conflict might break out "by accident" amid rising tensions between the and Iran, as U.S. held talks with powers backing the nuclear deal with the Islamic republic.

The warning came as said that two of its tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the in attacks Sunday that caused "significant damage" to the vessels, one of them as it was heading to pick up Saudi to take to the U.S.

has warned ships that "or its proxies" could be targeting maritime traffic in the region and said it was deploying an and bombers to the to counter alleged threats from

"We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side but ends with some kind of conflict," British told reporters in

"What we need is a period of calm to make sure that everyone understands what the other side is thinking," Hunt said, adding that would share those concerns Monday with European partners and Pompeo.

The U.S. pulled out of the 2015 nuclear accord a year ago, saying it does nothing to stop developing missiles or destabilizing the The Europeans insist the agreement was never meant to address those issues but has been effective in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Tensions mounted last week, when Iranian said that signatories to the deal now have 60 days to come up with a plan to shield his country from the sanctions imposed by

French described the remarks suggesting that might renege on the agreement as "very worrying," given that the EU is still respecting the deal and trying to bolster the country's economy.

Hunt warned of the importance of ensuring that Iran doesn't resume banned atomic activities, saying that "if Iran becomes a nuclear power, its neighbors are likely to want to become nuclear powers. This is already the most unstable region in the world. This would be a massive step in the wrong direction."

The meeting between Hunt, his counterparts from and Germany, and EU comes as the Europeans struggle to keep financial supply lines open to Iran to offset the impact of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic republic's shattered economy.

"We in agree that this treaty is necessary for our security," German said. "Nobody wants Iran to get possession of an atomic bomb, and that's been achieved so far."

As the U.S. sanctions bite, domestic pressure is increasing on Rouhani to demonstrate that Iran can still benefit from an agreement based on providing it with economic opportunities in exchange for limiting nuclear development.

Maas said the Europeans "are working on the assumption that Iran won't withdraw step by step from this treaty, but rather meet all of its commitments." Even so, the EU cannot keep Iran's economy afloat alone.

The Europeans have set up a complicated barter-type system to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and so evade possible U.S. sanctions.

The workaround, dubbed INSTEX, is not yet operational as Iran has not completed its part of the scheme.

They have also introduced a "blocking statute" protecting European companies from the effects of U.S. sanctions, but many international corporations do more business in the than in Iran and have already severed ties there rather than risk running afoul of

"We have already initiated concrete steps in recent months, especially as concerns the payment channel and INSTEX. Now this instrument needs to be further operationalized and used in order to continue implementing" the nuclear agreement, Maas said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, May 13 2019. 19:41 IST