LONDON (Bloomberg) – The UK is “spearheading” an international mission to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf, which will see the Royal Navy work with the U.S. to protect vessels amid an ongoing confrontation with Iran.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has spoken to allies around the world to encourage them to join the mission to safeguard a key chokepoint for oil, the UK said in a statement Monday emailed by the British embassy in Washington.
“It is vital to secure the freedom for all international shipping to navigate the Strait of Hormuz without delay, given the increased threat,” Raab said in the statement. “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.”
Cooperating with the U.S. marks a shift in strategy under new Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The UK had previously called for a European-led initiative to protect shipping as it sought to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The question is whether the UK move gives its European allies, who had previously all but ruled out working with the U.S. in the region, cover to join the mission.
European leaders blame the U.S. for inflaming tensions when it pulled out of the nuclear accord, which was aimed at cutting off Iran’s route to attaining atomic weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. The U.S. has since imposed more trade restrictions and sought to cut off Iran’s oil sales.
“Our approach to Iran hasn’t changed,” Raab said. “We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal.”
That is likely to be more difficult now.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Monday his country would act more vigorously to protect its interests in the region, and singled out the British government for criticism after UK forces seized an Iranian tanker on July 4 near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating international sanctions on Syria.
Iran retaliated by grabbing a British tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz two weeks later and continues to hold it. It has also detained two smaller vessels it accuses of smuggling fuel.
The UK showed it was “complicit in U.S. economic terrorism,” Zarif said.
The UK has two warships in the region, the HMS Montrose and HMS Duncan, which have successfully accompanied 47 ships, according to the statement.
In addition to the vessel seizures, Iran has also been accused of a series of attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of the world’s seaborne oil passes. Tehran denies the accusations.
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