August 05, 2019

Britain joins US naval mission to protect international shipping in Gulf amid escalating security crisis with Iran
Britain is joining the US in a naval mission in the Gulf to protect international shipping, following a series of tanker seizures by the Iranian military, in a move reflecting the escalating security crisis in the region.Two Royal Navy warships already in the area will be working alongside two American ships to accompany vessels through the Straits of Hormuz, which carries 20 per cent of the world’s oil supplies.Whitehall officials insisted the mission will not remain under American control and, in time, will transition to one with European command in which the UK has offered to lead one of the Maritime Task Groups.The new government under Boris Johnson, ministers insisted, will not change its stance towards Iran and will back, not follow, Donald Trump’s administration.London continues to stand by Tehran’s agreement with international powers, they stressed, and will not follow the US in imposing sanctions against Iran.No other European power, however, has joined the American and British naval initiative so far and the only other European warship in the waters, a French frigate, will continue to operate autonomously.British government sources stated that talks have been held with a number of European allies and a number have expressed an interest in joining a future European commanded operation.But some Western states, including France and Germany, have expressed unwillingness to join a task force led by the Americans.The British decision to join the mission comes three weeks after a British flagged tanker, Stena Impero, was taken over by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. That followed the capture of an Iranian owned tanker, Grace 1, by Royal Marines off Gibraltar.Two British frigates in the Gulf, the destroyer HMS Duncan and frigate HMS Montrose, will continue to accompany UK-flagged and international shipping and two American cruiser-destroyers, stationed at each end of the Straits of Hormuz, will protect British ships when called upon.The two countries will, however, operate, for the time being, under different rules of engagement.Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, said: “The UK is determined to ensure her shipping is protected from unlawful threats and for that reason we have joined the new maritime security mission in the Gulf.“The deployment of the Royal Navy assets is a sign of our commitment to our UK-flagged vessels and we look forward to working alongside the US and others to find an international solution to the problems in the Strait of Hormuz.”Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, added : “It is vital to secure the freedom for all international shipping to navigate the Strait of Hormuz without delay, given the increased threat. This deployment will reinforce security and provide reassurance for shipping. Our aim is to build the broadest international support to uphold freedom of navigation in the region, as protected under international law.“Our approach to Iran hasn’t changed. We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal.”Iran has, however, repeatedly complained about the British seizure of Grace 1 and demanded the release of its crew and cargo.Speaking at news conference in Dubai, Mohammed Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, accused Britain of collaborating with the US in “economic terrorism”.
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