Britain called on Monday for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, days after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in what London described as an act of “state piracy” in the strategic waterway.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt outlined the plans to parliament after a meeting of COBR, the government’s emergency committee, which discussed London’s response to Friday’s capture of the Stena Impero tanker by Iranian commandos at sea.
“Under international law, Iran had no right to obstruct the ship’s passage - let alone board her. It was therefore an act of state piracy,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament.
“We will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region,” Hunt said.
It is unclear how much influence Britain may have in Europe given it is about to have a new prime minister, widely expected to be Boris Johnson, who takes over a country divided over Brexit, its planned departure from the European Union.
Hunt made a point of saying that the maritime protection proposal would not involve contributing European military power to back Washington’s hardline stance against Iran.
The proposed new maritime protection mission “will not be part of the U.S. maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement”, he said.
In Nicaragua, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the British tanker of endangering shipping by turning off its signal for longer than permitted and by “passing through the wrong channel.”
Zarif said Iran’s actions were not in retaliation for the British capture of an Iranian tanker two weeks earlier in Gibraltar and he warned the West against “starting a conflict,” saying Tehran was not seeking confrontation.
“Starting a conflict is easy, ending it would be impossible,” Zarif told reporters after meeting his Nicaraguan counterpart. “It’s important for everybody to realize, it’s important for Boris Johnson to understand, that Iran does not seek confrontation.”