Wednesday 21 August 2019

UK and US form coalition in Gulf as tensions grow on vital oil route

Gun boats: Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrol the Gulf waters. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Gun boats: Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrol the Gulf waters. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Harry Yorke

Britain has formed a maritime coalition in the Persian Gulf with the US to protect international shipping amid growing tensions with Iran, the UK government announced last night.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the Royal Navy would work with the US to ensure safe passage for merchant ships through the Strait of Hormuz.

It follows the seizure of the British-flagged tanker the Stena Impero by the Iranian Republican Guards last month in retaliation for the impounding of one of its vessels off Gibraltar.

Proposals for a joint mission are thought to have been suggested by Washington in July, before the seizure took place, but were reportedly snubbed by Theresa May.

Instead, Jeremy Hunt, then foreign secretary, said the UK was attempting a European-led operation. Last night's announcement suggests Prime Minister Boris Johnson's new administration has taken a different approach.

While no other European nation has joined the task force, the move will be seen as an attempt by the Government to bounce others, such as France, into signing up.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said that it was "vital" to secure the Strait "given the increased threat" but insisted the UK's approach to Iran "hasn't changed". He added the UK would continue to work to "de-escalate" tensions with Tehran and remained committed to the nuclear deal.

"Our aim is to build the broadest international support to uphold freedom of navigation in the region, as protected under international law," he said. The MoD said that for now the mission would mainly draw on assets already deployed in the region, which included the Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan and Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose.

So far, 47 ships had been escorted through the strait by the vessels, officials said. The US, which has been building up forces in the region, has also committed two warships to the mission as well as providing aerial surveillance.

Tensions have been rising in the wake of the Trump administration's decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran following its abandonment of the nuclear deal. Tanker traffic through the Strait - where a fifth of the world's oil passes - has become the focus for a standoff between Tehran and Washington. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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