FRI 10 - 4 - 2020
Date: Jul 24, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
U.K. wins Euro support for Hormuz mission
BRUSSELS/GENEVA: France, Italy and Denmark gave initial support for a British plan for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, three senior EU diplomats said Tuesday after Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker. The backing at a meeting of EU envoys in Brussels contrasts sharply with the lukewarm response shown by European allies to a similar American call first voiced at NATO in June, when countries feared they could make U.S.-Iranian tensions worse.

“Britain’s request, rather than Washington’s, makes it easier for Europeans to rally round this,” one senior EU diplomat said. “Freedom of navigation is essential, this is separate from the U.S. campaign of maximum pressure on Iran.”

Britain tested the idea to senior EU diplomats at a meeting in Brussels, saying it would not involve the European Union, NATO or the United States directly, the diplomats said. It was the first formal European meeting since British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt outlined the plans to Parliament Monday.

British Foreign Ministry and defense officials have also discussed a possible mission, which would likely involve not just ships but aircraft too, directly with their Italian, Spanish, French and German counterparts.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was in close contact with his British and French counterparts, Hunt and Jean-Yves Le Drian, to “contribute to the security” of the Gulf including on maritime security.

The Netherlands was also assessing the British proposal.

They aim to have further meetings with Madrid and Stockholm, the diplomats said, while at the EU meeting in Brussels, Sweden, Poland and Germany also showed interest.

The mission to protect vital Middle East oil shipping lanes could be run by a joint Franco-British command, one of the envoys said.

Any mission would still need parliamentary approval in some EU countries, diplomats said.

The seizure of the British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, has been seen as a tit-for-tat move after British authorities detained an Iranian tanker on July 4 in the Mediterranean on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

“Throughout history, Iran has been and will be the main guardian of security and free navigation” in the Gulf, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said late Monday. “There is still no adequate and lasting stability and security in the region,” he added, emphasizing Tehran was not seeking to stoke tensions.

The head of Iran’s navy, Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi, said the Islamic Republic observes all U.S. ships in the Gulf region and has an archive of images of their daily movements, in an interview with the Young Journalists Club news site.

“We observe all enemy ships, particularly [those of] America, point-by-point from their origin until the moment they enter the region,” Khanzadi said, noting that images were recorded using Iranian drones.

Iraq said Tuesday Tehran had reassured it that there would be freedom of international maritime navigation in the Gulf.

Iran communicated this to Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi during a visit by him to Tehran Monday, the Iraqi Oil Ministry said in a statement.

“Iranian President Hassan Rouhani [gave] reassurances to the Iraqi delegation ... around guaranteeing freedom of navigation in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz and respect for international law guaranteeing that,” the statement said.

Iran said it will attend an urgent meeting with countries still party to the troubled nuclear deal.

The planned July 28 meeting is aimed at salvaging the hard-won deal, on life-support since the U.S. withdrew from it last year. The nuclear deal meeting was requested by the European parties to discuss the “new situation,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said, referring to its reduced nuclear commitments under the deal in response to the U.S. withdrawal.

The EU confirmed Iran would meet envoys from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - the remaining parties to the deal - in Vienna Sunday.

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