EghtesadOnline: Britain on Monday joined the United States in a maritime security mission in the Persian Gulf to purportedly protect merchant vessels travelling through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a British-flagged vessel.
British officials stressed that there was no change to London’s policy on Iran but joining the US is the most significant non-Brexit foreign policy move to date of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 12-day-old government.
Just two weeks ago, Britain was calling for a European-led naval mission. Now, it has joined what it said was a US-led “international maritime security mission”.
No other countries are yet involved, according to Financial Tribune.
“It is vital to secure the freedom for all international shipping to navigate the Strait of Hormuz without delay, given the increased threat,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said, Reuters reported.
“The deployment of Royal Navy assets is a sign of our commitment to our UK flagged vessels and we look forward to working alongside the US and others to find an international solution to the problems in the Strait of Hormuz.”
The US Defense Department welcomed the British decision.
“This is an international challenge and we look forward to the opportunity to work together with the Royal Navy and with additional partners and allies who share the common goal of ensuring the free flow of commerce,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Tanker traffic through the Strait—through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes—has become the focus for a standoff between Iran and the US, which has beefed up its military presence in the Persian Gulf since May.
Last month, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps seized a British tanker, Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz for marine violations. That came two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.
Britain has ruled out any exchange.
No Support for US Bans
The tanker dispute has tangled the United Kingdom in the diplomatic differences between the EU’s big powers—which want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal—and the US which has pushed for a tougher policy on Iran.
“Our approach to Iran hasn’t changed,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal.”
A British source said the focus of the new mission would be protecting the security of shipping and Britain would not be joining US sanctions against Iran.
Another British source said London hoped the US-led mission would transition toward a European-led mission. The United Kingdom has also offered to lead one of the US-led mission’s maritime task groups.
No other nations have signed up to the US mission.
Britain has deployed a destroyer HMS Duncan and a frigate HMS Montrose to the Persian Gulf to accompany UK-flagged vessels through the strait. So far, 47 ships have been accompanied by the naval vessels, British officials said.
Later this year, another Type 23 Frigate, HMS Kent, will take over from HMS Duncan, while HMS Montrose completes planned maintenance. HMS Montrose will remain stationed in the Middle East until 2022.