EU’s naval mission will raise tensions in Gulf, says Iran

Iran on Sunday warned Europe against a naval mission proposed by the UK to defend oil tankers sailing through the Strait of Hormuz in the wake of recent attacks or seizure of such vessels, reports say.

Instead of protecting shipping, the presence of foreign troops in the Persian Gulf would only escalate tensions, said Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

Several EU members have expressed their willingness to join the UK’s proposed naval mission which the Iranian president called hostile and provocative.

Rouhani’s comments came as a second Royal Navy warship HMS Duncan, above, joined frigate HMS Montrose in Persian Gulf to protect British vessels sailing through its waters.

He said the US pull-out from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was the root cause of all troubles witnessing in the Gulf waters now. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the UK is acting as an accessory to economic terrorism of the US.

He said Iran guarantees the security of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and upholds international maritime rules.

Most countries led by the US do not think so. They have blamed Iran for the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, a charge consistently denied by Tehran.

In Vienna, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said the seizure of its super-tanker Grace 1 by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar coast last month was a clear violation of the 2015 nuclear deal of which the UK was one of the signatories.

Araghchi’s comment came after talks on the Gulf situation and Iran’s uranium enrichment with diplomats from the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.

Calling Sunday’s discussion constructive, he said the foreign ministers of these countries would meet shortly in an attempt to salvage the Iran nuclear pact.

Tehran would keep mounting pressure on Europe until it safeguards Iran’s interests under the nuclear deal, Araghchi added.

In London, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the Royal Navy will continue escorting its merchant ships in the Gulf until they can freely travel and trade safely.

Wallace said his country seeks diplomatic resolution to the navy spat which started after Britain helped Gibraltar seize Grace 1 at sea for suspected violation of EU sanctions by carrying millions of barrels of oil destined for war-torn Syria.

On 19 July, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz.

Tehran said the Stena Impero violated international maritime rules by hitting an Iranian fishing boat ignoring distress calls from the small vessel.

Rouhani says Iran is willing to return the seized ship if the UK releases Grace 1.

Last month, Iran shot down a US drone after it allegedly entered its airspace. Within 24 hours, the US nearly launched an airstrike against Iranian targets but President Trump called off the operation at the last minute.