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US warns airlines flying over Persian Gulf

Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf

US diplomats have warned that commercial airliners flying over the Persian Gulf face a risk of being “misidentified” amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.

The warning relayed by US diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the risks the tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel.

It came as Lloyd’s of London also warned of increased risks to shipping in the region.

Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that has seen America order non-essential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.

President Donald Trump has since sought to soften his tone.

Meanwhile, authorities allege that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline.

Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a local newspaper linked to the Al Saud royal family called for America to launch “surgical strikes” on Tehran.

This all takes root in Mr Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions.

Tehran has since announced it will begin withdrawing from the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.

Tehran has long insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, but the West fears its programme could allow it to build atomic bombs.

The order relayed on Saturday by US diplomats in Kuwait and the UAE came from an FAA Notice to Airmen published late on Thursday in the US. It said that all commercial aircraft flying over the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman needed to be aware of “heightened military activities and increased political tension”.

This presents “an increasing inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification”, the warning said.

It said aircraft could experience interference with navigation instruments and communications jamming “with little to no warning”.

Iran’s foreign minister said on Saturday that the Islamic Republic is “not seeking war.

Mohammed Javad Zarif said: “In fact, as the supreme leader said, there will be no war since we are not seeking war and nobody in the region is suffering from a hallucination to think that he is able to confront Iran.”

Mr Zarif added that though Mr Trump has said he is not seeking war, “some that have sat around him” are pushing conflict.

The Persian Gulf has become a major gateway for East-West travel in the aviation industry. Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, home to Emirates, is the world’s busiest for international travel, while long-haul carriers Etihad and Qatar Airways also operate there.

In a statement, Emirates said it was aware of the notice and in touch with authorities worldwide, but “at this time there are no changes to our flight operations.”

Qatar Airways similarly said it was aware of the notice but its operations were unaffected.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi oil official said employees of energy giant Exxon Mobil were evacuating an oil field in the southern province of Basra.

The official said all those being evacuated are foreigners or Iraqis with other nationalities. The US has already ordered all nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq.

Meanwhile, Lloyd’s Market Association Joint War Committee added the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the United Arab Emirates to its list of areas posing higher risk to insurers. It also expanded its list to include the Saudi coast as a risk area.

The USS Abraham Lincoln and its carrier strike group have yet to reach the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes.

A Revolutionary Guard deputy has warned that any armed conflict would affect the global energy market. Iran long has threatened to be able to shut off the strait.

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