By Parisa Hafezi and Lisa Barrington
DUBAI, June 22 (Reuters) – Iran said on Saturday it would respond firmly to any U.S. threat against it, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, amid escalating tension between Tehran and Washington over the shooting down of an unmanned U.S. drone by the Islamic Republic.
On Thursday, an Iranian missile destroyed a U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone. Tehran said the drone was shot down over its territory and Washington said it had occurred in international airspace.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he aborted a military strike to retaliate for Iran’s downing of the U.S. drone because it could have killed 150 people, and signalled he was open to talks with Tehran.
“Regardless of any decision they (U.S. officials) make… we will not allow any of Iran’s borders to be violated. Iran will firmly confront any aggression or threat by America,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told Tasnim.
A senior commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards struck a similarly defiant note, in comments quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
“This is our response to a violation of Iranian space and if the violation is repeated then our response will be repeated,” said Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division.
“It’s possible that this infringement of the Americans was carried out by a general or some operators,” he added.
Worries about a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted despite Trump saying that he has no appetite to go to war with Iran. Tehran has also said it is not seeking a war but has warned of a “crushing” response if attacked.
“Any mistake by Iran’s enemies, in particular America and its regional allies, would be like firing at a powder keg that will burn America, its interests and its allies to the ground,” the senior spokesman of Iran’s Armed Forces, Abolfazl Shekarchi, told Tasnim on Saturday.
Iran’s foreign ministry summoned a diplomatic representative of the United Arab Emirates on Saturday because the UAE allowed the drone that was shot down to be launched from a U.S. military base on its territory, the Fars news agency reported.
A senior Arab diplomat said the sharply increased tensions would further harm the crisis-hit Middle East region.
“Confrontation, whatever we think about Trump or Iran, will be disastrous for everyone,” the diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday issued an emergency order prohibiting U.S. operators from flying in an oversea area of Tehran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman. Some other international airlines are taking related precautions.
But Iran said on Saturday its airspace was “safe and secure” for all planes to cross, Tasnim reported.
The United States and Iran’s main regional rival Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers last week in the Gulf of Oman and on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates on May 12, both near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit for global oil supplies.
Iran has denied any involvement in those incidents.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Saturday for a political resolution of the crisis, adding: “That is what we are working on.”
Britain’s Foreign Office said Middle East minister Andrew Murrison would raise concerns about “Iran’s regional conduct and its threat to cease complying with the nuclear deal” during a visit to Tehran on Sunday.
Tensions began to worsen significantly when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers and reimposed sanctions on the country. The sanctions had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear programme.
Iran has threatened to breach the deal if the European signatories to the deal fail to salvage it by shielding Tehran from U.S. sanctions.
“The Europeans will not be given more time beyond July 8 to save the deal,” Mousavi said, referring to Iran’s deadline of 60 days that Tehran announced in May.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Alistair Smout in London and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)