U.K. plans European-led Gulf force after tanker seizure

The U.K. on Monday said it was planning a European-led protection force for shipping in the Gulf after Iranian authorities seized a British-flagged tanker in a dramatic escalation of tensions in the region.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned Iran’s actions as “state piracy” while at the same time emphasizing that the U.K. did not want confrontation.

“We will seek to establish this mission as quickly as possible,” Hunt said, adding that a second warship the U.K. has sent to the region would arrive by July 29.

In a ramping up of tensions, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the Stena Impero on Friday in the Gulf’s strategic Strait of Hormuz.

The move came two weeks after U.K. authorities seized an Iranian tanker off its overseas territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of breaching EU sanctions against Syria, against a backdrop of brinkmanship between Washington and Tehran.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country is not seeking confrontation with the U.K. in a message directed at its likely incoming leader Boris Johnson.

“It is very important for Boris Johnson as he enters 10 Downing Street to understand that Iran does not seek confrontation, that Iran wants normal relations based on mutual respect,” Zarif told reporters during a visit to Nicaragua.

He also accused the U.K. “of doing the bidding for the Trump administration.”

Hunt told Parliament that the protection force “will not be part of the U.S. maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement.”