Britain says Iran military ships tried to ‘impede’ tanker

AFP, LONDON

Fri, Jul 12, 2019 - Page 1

London yesterday said that Iranian military vessels tried to “impede the passage” of a UK oil tanker, but were warned off by a British warship.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards denied involvement, but also cautioned the US and Britain that they would “strongly regret” the UK Royal Marines’ detention of an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar last week.

The incident in the Strait of Hormuz occurred after US President Donald Trump raised the pressure by announcing that sanctions against Iran over its stepped-up nuclear activities would soon be “increased substantially.”

The rapid chain of events further complicates European efforts to salvage a nuclear accord with Iran from which Washington pulled out last year.

The 274m supertanker is owned by the British energy giant BP PLC and can carry 1 million barrels of oil.

“Three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz,” the British Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

“HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage, and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away,” it said.

The Revolutionary Guards denied trying to seize or impede the UK tanker.

“There has been no confrontation in the last 24 hours with any foreign vessels, including British ones,” it said in a statement.

Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Ali Fadavi called Britain’s seizure of Iran’s tanker “stupidity... A trait the American president has in spades and the British to some extent.”

Iran has increased uranium enrichment in response to the US’ decision last year to pull out of a nuclear agreement world powers signed after a decade of talks with Tehran in 2015.

It surpassed one limit set in that deal a month ago and breached a second one on Monday.

European nations have been trying to preserve the deal by setting up their own independent trade mechanism that evades US sanctions on Tehran, but Iran’s decision to push ahead with higher enrichment is putting the strategy under strain.

European parties to the agreement on Tuesday issued a tough joint statement saying Iran must reverse its activities and return to full compliance “without delay.”