Wednesday, 18 September 2019 | 12:38
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Britain seeks to unite Europeans over Iran’s threat to shipping in Strait of Hormuz

Thursday, 01 August 2019 | 00:00

Britain has invited military representatives of the US, France and other European countries to a meeting in Bahrain on Wednesday in an attempt to create an international mission to safeguard shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.

Whitehall sources told The Guardian that the British proposal was to create a European-led mission to prevent future tanker seizures by Iran and was still alive despite the dismissal of Jeremy Hunt as foreign secretary in Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle.

Earlier, the US had stepped up ­diplomatic pressure on Germany to send warships to the Persian Gulf as the Western allies remained divided over how to respond to Tehran.

Germany has so far been reluctant to contribute to any naval mission in the Middle East and the US embassy took the unusual step of publicly challenging Berlin to make a commitment.

“Members of the German government have been clear that freedom of navigation should be protected,” the US embassy said in a statement. “Our question is, protected by whom?”

The US statement said that both the UK and France had committed to sending warships to “secure the Strait of Hormuz and combat Iranian aggression”. In reality, there is still no agreement on any joint mission in the Strait of Hormuz.

France has refused to join any US mission out of concern it would associate Paris with Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” against Iran. Britain is caught in the middle, calling for a European-led initiative but saying it will need American military support to succeed.

Germany appeared unmoved by the US pressure and refused to commit to sending naval assets. “The German government has taken note of this, but not promised to make any contribution,” a German official said.

The foreign ministry later said the US had provided details to allies on its concept for securing maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf region.

The ministry said it hadn’t promised any contribution but was “in close consultation with France and Great Britain.”

It gave no details of the U.S. plan, but said “priority must be given to a de-escalation of tensions and diplomatic efforts.”

It added “participation in the American strategy of maximum pressure is out of the question for us,” referring to the U.S. approach to Iran.

Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised Germany for not spending more on defence and German politicians have called for the expulsion of his ambassador in Berlin for appearing to interfere in the country’s domestic politics.

Overseas military deployments are a sensitive subject in Germany, where the post-war constitution places constraints on using the armed forces for anything other than strictly defensive operations.

Meanwhile, hardliners in Iran continued to revel in the seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker with the launch of a cartoon exhibition mocking the UK’s inability to recover its ship.

The “Pirates of the Queen” exhibit features more than a dozen cartoons. Some mock the Queen personally while others portray the UK as a fox – a reference to the Persian term “the Old Fox”, which is often used by Iranians to to describe Britain.

The captain of an Iranian tanker seized in Gibraltar accused Britain of using unnecessary “brute force” when Royal Marines took the ship. He said the marines pointed guns at his unarmed crew and forced them to kneel on the deck.

“They just pointed the gun and they started shouting look forward, look forward,” said the captain, an Indian national who spoke anonymously to the BBC. “I was totally shocked I didn’t know what to feel because they didn’t give me a chance to talk.”

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, appealed to Mr Trump to ignore the advice of his hawkish advisers and seek a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Iran.

“Diplomacy = prudence; never weakness,” Mr Zarif said on Twitter.

Mr Trump has occasionally expressed interest in negotiations with Iran and reportedly tapped a Republican senator to be his envoy. But he has also said he does not believe Iran is ready to negotiate and has shown no sign he is prepared to ease crippling US sanctions on Iran.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday and reiterated his call for a de-escalation of tensions between Iran and the United States, the Elysee said.

“It is France’s role to make every effort to ensure that all parties agree to a break and open negotiations,” the French presidency said.

Mr Macron had a “long” discussion with Rouhani during the French leader’s annual holiday at his summer retreat, the medieval fort of Bregancon on France’s Mediterranean coast, the Elysee said.

He “recalled the need to initiate a de-escalation of tensions,” it added.
Source: CNN

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