Britain’s Foreign Office has gone into crisis mode because of rising tensions in the Gulf between the United States and Iran, Sky News can reveal.
At the moment the level of crisis is at the lower end with a small number of additional staff focusing on Iran, and additional reports being produced by officials.
However, this level could be increased if the situation in the region worsens, sources said.
“We are going into crisis mode,” a Whitehall source said, describing it, for now, as “pretty light touch”.
Crisis mode is a formal status at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in response to events. There is a crisis centre within the department, with screens, computers and secure telephone lines to enable staff to keep in contact contacts with missions and diplomats in the region affected.
Depending on the level of crisis, staffing can be increased to 24 hours per day at the centre, with senior officials brought in to direct operations. It also means additional reports and updates on the situation will be produced.
Given the crisis level on Iran is limited it means that there is not round-the-clock manning. But additional reports are being produced by officials.
A second source said the crisis in the region, with the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia pitched against Iran, is an “increasingly complex political and diplomatic situation” that “will need careful management by” the UK.
The source said Britain “is caught between [an] expectation from the US to support and a much more leery EU”.
“Prudent steps are being taken to mitigate risk associated with potentially volatile escalation or miscalculation,” they added.
A third source said the number of additional Foreign Office staff focusing on Iran had increased by about five “across the different workstreams” because of the change in posture.
It comes in response to the United States sending an aircraft carrier strike group, B-52 bombers and a patriot missile defence battering to the Gulf in recent days, as well as drawing up plans to deploy as many as 120,000 military personnel, which it says is in response to Iranian threats to its troops and interests in the region.
Iran’s ambassador to the UK broke his silence on Tuesday to spell out his country’s readiness for war in an exclusive interview with Sky News.
“Don’t test us” was the message from Hamid Baeidinejad in the wake of escalating sabre-rattling from Donald Trump’s administration.
Tensions have been growing between the US and Iran during the last year since the US president’s decision to withdraw America from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran.
Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to increase Tehran’s uranium enrichment if new and better terms under the Obama-era agreement were not reached with the remaining signatories of the accord – Britain, China, the European Union, France and Germany – in two months.
Amid talks with his European counterparts and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels on Monday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned there is a risk the US and Iran could end up at war unintentionally.
“What we need is a period of calm to make sure that everyone understands what the other side is thinking, and most of all we need to make sure we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to renuclearisation,” he said.
Mr Pompeo was due in Moscow at the start of the week but cancelled his plans and joined Mr Hunt in Belgium instead after Saudi Arabia said two of its tankers – one of which was on its way to pick up oil to take to the US – were attacked on Sunday off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks.