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Foreign Secretary Eyes Diplomacy, Not Military Options, In Iran Standoff

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt takes part in a panel discussion at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London on July 10, 2019.


British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says his country is focusing on diplomacy and not "military options" following Iran's seizure of a British oil tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

"We will respond in a way that is considered but robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly, there will be serious consequences," Hunt told reporters late on July 19.

He added, though, that London was "not looking at military options -- we are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation."

Hunt is one of two candidates to replace Prime Minister Theresa May in the coming days following her standing down as Conservative Party leader. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, however, looks to be the likely winner of the position.

British officials and their U.S. allies condemned Iran's actions earlier on July 19 after Tehran seized the British tanker in the strait, one of the world's most strategic commercial shipping routes. Another tanker, identified as a British-operated, Liberian-flagged vessel, was also briefly stopped by Iranian security forces but later allowed to head on its way.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on July 19 said it had seized the British tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz for an alleged failure "to respect international maritime rules."

The Stena Impero's owner and operator, Stena Bulk and Northern Marine, denied any violations. They issued a statement saying there 23 seafarers aboard the tanker and that they were unable to contact the vessel. They said there were no reported injuries among the crew, identified as being of Indian, Russian, Latvian, and Filipino nationality.

Following the seizure, Hunt said he was "extremely concerned" by Iran's actions in the strait and called an urgent meeting of senior U.K. security officials "to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels.

The United States accused Tehran of "escalatory violence" and President Donald Trump spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the perceived Iranian threat and said he would "talk to the U.K." and "be working with the U.K." in light of the latest developments.

Trump added: "This only goes to show what I'm saying about Iran: Trouble, nothing but trouble."

The fresh incidents follow a month of naval confrontations, seizures, and reported shoot-downs of drones involving Iranian and Western vessels, along with accusations and counteraccusations of what happened and who is to blame.

Key Iranian Navy and IRGC Bases in the Strait of Hormuz
Key Iranian Navy and IRGC Bases in the Strait of Hormuz

On July 4, the British Navy seized a Panamanian-flagged Iranian tanker off the southern tip of Spain that it suspected of smuggling oil to Iranian ally Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. On July 19, Gibraltar's government reportedly extended the detention by 30 days of the vessel, the Grace 1.

Tehran on July 12 called on Britain to immediately release the oil tanker.

"This is a dangerous game and has consequences...the legal pretexts for the capture are not valid ... the release of the tanker is in all countries' interest," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said.

Iran's IRGC at the time threatened to seize a British vessels in retaliation.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP