UK mulls options over seizure – Britain should not become US ‘messengers’ over Iran: Labour
LONDON, July 21, (Agencies): Britain is looking into a series of options to respond to Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker, junior defence minister Tobias Ellwood said on Sunday when asked whether London was considering putting sanctions on Tehran. “Our first and most important responsibility is to make sure that we get a solution to the issue to do with the current ship, make sure other British-flagged ships are safe to operate in these waters and then look at the wider picture,” he told Sky News.
Asked about the possibility of sanctions, he said: “We are going to be looking at a series of options … We will be speaking with our colleagues, our international allies, to see what can actually be done.” Iran’s top diplomat said on Sunday that only “prudence and foresight” could alleviate tensions between his country and Britain after Tehran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker. “Having failed to lure @realDonaldTrump into War of the Century, and fearing collapse of his #B_Team, @AmbJohnBolton is turning his venom against the UK in hopes of dragging it into a quagmire,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.
“Only prudence and foresight can thwart such ploys.” Britain has called Iran’s capture of the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday a “hostile act”. Tehran for weeks has vowed to retaliate for the seizure of its Grace 1 oil tanker by British forces for violating European Union sanctions on Syria. Britain should not become the “messengers” for US President Donald Trump over Iran’s seizure of the UK-flagged tanker, Richard Burgon, justice spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said on Sunday. Warning that Britain should not be dragged into a conflict as it was in Iraq, Burgon told Sky News: “I think we can play a very positive role in this … Our role is to speak up for conflict resolution, de-escalation, the nuclear deal.” “But what we don’t want to do is end up being the messengers or sidekicks of Donald Trump.”
NATO has, meanwhile, condemned the seizure of two commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz. “This represents a clear challenge to international freedom of navigation. We urge Iran to immediately release the ships and their crew,” said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu in a statement late Saturday. “The UK has made clear that their priority is to address the situation through dialogue and diplomacy. NATO supports all diplomatic efforts to resolve this situation. All Allies remain concerned by Iran’s destabilizing activities,” it added.
Iran’s ambassador to Britain warned against escalating tensions on Sunday as a UK official declined to rule out sanctions in response to Tehran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker. Britain has called Iran’s capture of the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday a “hostile act”. Britain needs to contain “those domestic political forces who want to escalate existing tension between Iran and the UK well beyond the issue of ships,” Iran’s envoy to Britain Hamid Baeidinejad said on Twitter.
“This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region,” he said, adding that Iran “is firm and ready for different scenarios.” British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt on Saturday said Tehran’s actions showed “worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s legal detention of oil bound for Syria.” In a letter to the UN Security Council, Britain said the Stena Impero was approached by Iranian forces in Omani territorial waters where it was exercising its lawful right of passage, and that the action “constitutes illegal interference.” British warship HMS Montrose radioed an Iranian patrol vessel to warn it against boarding the Stena Impero, according to radio messages provided to Reuters by maritime security firm Dryad Global. Iran said the seized tanker “risked maritime safety” in the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s annual oil consumption passes. “We are required by regulations to investigate the issue … the duration of the investigation depends on the level of cooperation by the involved parties,” Allahmorad Afifipour, head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation in Hormozgan Province, told state TV.
He added that all 23 crew members aboard the ship are “safe and in good health in Bandar Abbas port”. The vessel’s Sweden-based owner, Stena Bulk, said it hoped to visit the crew, who are from India, Latvia, the Philippines and Russia. India has called on Iran to release the ship’s 18 Indian crew members. Tehran for weeks has vowed to retaliate for the seizure of the Grace 1 tanker by British forces. “The Revolutionary Guards responded to Britain’s hijacking of the Iranian tanker,” parliament speaker Ali Larijani told a parliament session aired live on state radio.
Iran is feeling the pressure of US sanctions imposed on its banks and oil exports by Trump last year after he pulled the United States out of a 2015 international pact with Iran designed to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
US waivers which allowed eight countries to keep buying Iranian oil — China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — expired on May 2. “The export of oil is one of the issues in which we have limitations and the US and its allies have caused restrictions for us and we have to be sensitive,” Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said, state media reported on Sunday. He said the country’s oil exports had not been impacted so far by the recent tanker incidents in the Gulf.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it cannot export its oil because of the sanctions but cannot legally do so as part of the waterway is in Oman’s territorial waters. Ships using the Strait also pass through Iranian waters, which are patrolled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy. Oman has urged Iran to release the tanker and called on all parties to exercise restraint and resolve differences diplomatically, state broadcaster Oman TV News reported.
“Iran is displaying its power without entering a military confrontation. This is the result of America’s mounting pressure on Iran,” said an Iranian official, who asked not to be identified. Panama’s maritime authority said on Saturday it had begun the process of withdrawing the registration of an oil tanker called MT Riah, which was towed to Iran after it disappeared from ship tracking maps in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14. Panama began the flag withdrawal process on Friday after an investigation determined the tanker had “deliberately violated international regulations” by not reporting any unusual situation, the authority said in a statement.
“We roundly condemn the use of Panamanian flagged ships for illicit activities,” the authority said in a statement. Panama, which has the largest shipping fleet in the world, has recently withdrawn flags from dozens of vessels, some of which were operated by Iran.