UK to announce sanctions, asset freezes against Iran after tanker seizure

Theresa May was criticized by government officials for failing to agree to a US offer to join "Operation Sentinel," an international effort to monitor and protect naval traffic in the Arabian Gulf.

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July 21, 2019 17:38
4 minute read.
Jeremy Hunt gestures as he attends a event in Cheltenham, Britain July 12, 2019

Jeremy Hunt gestures as he attends a event in Cheltenham, Britain July 12, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS)

UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce on Sunday a package of diplomatic and economic measures against Iran in response to the seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker, including possible asset freezes, according to The Telegraph.

The UK could also push for the EU and the UN to reimpose sanctions on the Islamic republic that were lifted in 2016 as part of the JCPOA nuclear deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was criticized by government officials for failing to agree to a US offer to join "Operation Sentinel," an international effort to monitor and protect naval traffic in the Arabian Gulf region.

While military officials saw the offer as an "excellent opportunity," the Prime Minister's Office "wasn't backing them up," out of concern that the UK could be seen as supporting America's hard approach to Iran, according to a government source, The Telegraph reported.

Hunt told reporters on Saturday that parliament members would be updated on Sunday about "further measures" by the government. Ministers are considering asset freezes and a coordinated effort at the UN with international allies, among other economic and diplomatic measures.

The UK will also step up efforts to protect vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.

The British government has asked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to refrain from public comments that could further inflame the situation, while the UK attempts to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, according to The Washington Post.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council on Saturday, Britain said that a British-flagged tanker seized by Iran was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters.

"The ship was exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait as provided for under international law," Britain's UN mission wrote to the Security Council. "International law requires that the right of transit passage shall not be impeded, and therefore the Iranian action constitutes illegal interference." The letter, seen by Reuters, was also sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"Current tensions are extremely concerning, and our priority is to de-escalate. We do not seek confrontation with Iran," the letter read. "But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognized transit corridors."

Britain called on Iran to release the Stena Impero tanker and told the council it was working to resolve the issue through diplomatic means.

A government source told The Telegraph that British officials were "embarrassed" they had been "unable to look after our own," and criticized May for delaying a decision about joining Operation Sentinel.

US Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said on Thursday that the US was talking to other countries about freedom of navigation in the Gulf and will work "aggressively" to find a solution to enable free passage.

McKenzie was taking to reporters in Riyadh in a joint news conference with Lt.-Gen. Prince Fahd bin Turki, commander of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen.

Asked if Saudi Arabia will have a role in a proposed international maritime security coalition, Fahd said the kingdom has been escorting ships in the Red Sea.

"We are practicing this at Bab al-Mandeb Strait," he added.

"Trump tearing up the Iran nuclear deal has fueled confrontation. Its negotiated reinstatement is essential to defuse threat of war in the Gulf," Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote on Twitter.

Hunt denied any connection between US President Donald Trump's policies and the seizure of the British tanker in a reply to Corbyn's tweet, saying, "@jeremycorbyn for factual accuracy the UK flagged tanker was seized following Gibraltarian enforcement of EU sanctions preventing oil exports to Syria...nothing to do with @realDonaldTrump however disappointing that must be."




Iran's Fars News Agency said the IRGC had taken control of the Stena Impero on Friday after it collided with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored.

The vessel, carrying no cargo, was taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. It would remain there with its 23 crew – 18 of them Indians – while the accident was investigated, Iranian news agencies reported, quoting Allahmorad Afifipour, head of the Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province.

Zarif told Britain's Hunt that the ship must go through a legal process before it could be released, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.

The strait, between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, is the sole outlet for exports of most Middle Eastern oil, and the seizure sent oil prices sharply higher. The United States, which tightened sanctions against Iran in May with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether, has been warning for months of an Iranian threat to shipping in the strait.

Another oil tanker, the Mesdar, was also boarded by Iranian personnel on Friday and temporarily forced to divert towards Iran, but later was allowed to continue on its route through the strait. On Saturday, Algeria's APS news agency said the Mesdar was owned by Algeria's state oil company Sonatrach.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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