U.S. plans Gulf naval escorts after UK claims Iranian vessel tries to block its oil tanker

Chen Zhuo
2019-07-12 16:23:51
U.S. Army General Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. is discussing with allies a naval escort operation for oil tankers in the Gulf. /AFP Photo

The Pentagon said on Thursday it was discussing military escorts for vessels in the Gulf a day after the UK claimed armed Iranian boats tried to block a British commercial oil tanker.

The White House's nominee to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said Washington was attempting to put together a coalition "in terms of providing military escort, naval escort to commercial shipping."

"I think that that will be developing over the next couple weeks," Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The attempting escort follows a UK statement on Thursday, accusing Iranian vessels of trying to stop the passage of a British commercial vessel through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran denied, claiming the statement creates tension and the claims have no value.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also denied involvement, saying if it had received orders to seize any ships it would have executed them immediately.

"There were no clashes with alien boats, especially English boats," IRGC said in a statement.

Iran's super oil tanker Grace 1 seized by British Royal Marines is seen off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

The UK and Iran have been in conflict since the British Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar last Thursday. The UK claimed the oil tanker tried to take oil to Syria which is in violation of EU sanctions. However, Tehran maintained that the giant oil tanker was not bound for Syria and the seizure has taken place at the behest of the U.S..

According to Tasnim News, on Thursday, Iran's Assembly of Experts urged the administration to follow the country’s resistance policy in countering the U.S. and the UK.

Tensions in the Gulf have increased in the past few weeks. The United States blames Iran for a series of attacks on shipping in the world's most important oil artery since mid-May, accusations Tehran rejects. The foes came as close as ever to direct military conflict last month, when Iran shot down a U.S. drone and Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off minutes before impact.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) warns UK of the consequences involved in the oil tanker seizure, July 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

The rapid chain of events complicated further when Britain and other European allies stepped in. But those allies have their interests in the region. London and Paris have been reticent to join in Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran to try and force it to pull back on its involvement in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

British media reported that the possible deployment of more Royal Navy ships to the region was "being looked at" in the aftermath of the newest incident.

But in France, a government official told AFP that they were not planning for the moment to expand their presence in the Gulf.

"France is on a course of de-escalation," the official said, adding that "sending additional military assets to the region does not seem useful to us."

Russian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted on Wednesday that the U.S. was practically isolated on the Iran nuclear deal issue. The comment was made after an UN meeting summoned b they U.S. to discuss whether Iran violated the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement.

A British Royal Navy ship patrols near supertanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019.

In the meeting, China stated that the international community should not overreact to Iran's recent nuclear moves because they do not incur any proliferation risks, calling on all sides to avoid raising already-high tensions in the Gulf.

Foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, also said Beijing hopes the parties involved can "maintain cool and restraint" and safeguard peace and stability in the region.



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