Gulf tensions mount amid tanker drama

Top News | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 12 Jul 2019

London says Iranian military vessels tried to "impede the passage" of a British oil tanker but were warned off by a British warship in a dramatic escalation of tensions with Tehran in the Gulf.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards denied involvement but also cautioned both the United States and Britain that they would "strongly regret" the Royal Marines' detention of one of the Islamic republic's tankers off Gibraltar last week.

Wednesday's incident in the flashpoint Strait of Hormuz occurred after US President Donald Trump raised the pressure by announcing that sanctions against Iran over its stepped-up nuclear activities would be "increased substantially" soon.

The rapid chain of events further complicates Britain and other European allies' efforts to salvage a landmark nuclear accord with Iran from which Washington pulled out last year.

CNN initially cited US defense sources as saying that armed Iranian vessels belonging to the Revolutionary Guards tried to seize the British Heritage but were driven off by Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose.

The British defense ministry later said only that the Iranian boats tried to "impede" the 274-meter supertanker owned by British energy giant BP and can carry a million barrels of oil.

The ministry said the Montrose "was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away."

Iran's Revolutionary Guards - a vast and powerful security organization that the United States blames for staging several tanker attacks since May - denied trying to seize or impede the tanker.

"There has been no confrontation in the last 24 hours with any foreign vessels, including British ones," it said.

Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Ali Fadavi called Britain's seizure of Iran's tanker last week as "stupidity a trait the American president has in spades, and the British to some extent."

He added: "If the enemy had made the smallest assessment they wouldn't have done this act."

Iran has increased uranium enrichment in response to the Trump administration's decision last year to pull out of a controversial nuclear agreement world powers signed after a decade of talks with Tehran in 2015.

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