British Prime Minister Theresa May chaired an emergency security session on Monday to discuss how to respond to Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The meeting of security ministers and officials discussed how to secure shipping in the sensitive region, which is vital to the world’s oil supply. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to brief Parliament on the Friday seizure of the Stena Impero tanker and its crew of 23, now in a heavily guarded Iranian port. Also on Monday, Iran released new video showing the ship’s crew for the first time, an apparent attempt to show they were unharmed. None of the 23 are British nationals but are mostly Indian and also Filipino, Russian and Latvian nationals. May’s official spokesman, James Slack, said Iran has seized a ship under false and illegal pretenses and it needs to release it and its crew immediately. He said giving an individual naval escort to all U.K.-flagged ships is not an option because of the volume of traffic. But he denied cuts have made the Royal Navy too small. “We have the largest military budget in Europe, and we are investing in a world-class Royal Navy,” he said. Britain is considering a number of options to raise the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran but officials say military operations are not being considered at the moment. Britain is also seeking support from key European allies in an effort to keep the Strait of Hormuz open to shipping. The
Iran announced on Monday it had captured 17 spies working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and sentenced some of them to death, deepening a crisis between the Islamic Republic and the West. Iranian state television published images that it said showed the CIA officers who had been in touch with the suspected spies. In a statement read on state television, the Ministry of Intelligence said 17 spies had been arrested in the 12 months to March 2019. Some have been sentenced to death, according to another report. Such announcements are not unusual in Iran, and are often made for domestic consumption. But the timing suggests Tehran could harden its position in a standoff with Western powers which has raised fears of a direct military confrontation. In recent weeks the United States has blamed Iran for attacks on shipping near the Strait of Hormuz, the global oil trade’s most important waterway, accusations Iran has denied. The United States and Iran have downed drones operated by the other side and on Friday, Iran captured a British-registered tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran had previously warned it would respond to Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar on July 4. There was no immediate comment on the Iranian allegations by the CIA or U.S. officials. Iran announced in June that it had broken up an alleged CIA spy ring but it was unclear whether Monday’s announcement was linked to the same case. BRITAIN’S NEXT MOVE Prime
Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker was a response to Britain’s role in impounding an Iranian supertanker first, senior officials said Saturday, as newly released video of the incident showed Iranian commandos in black ski masks and fatigues rappelling from a helicopter onto the vessel in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The seizure prompted condemnation from the U.K. and its European allies as they continue to call for a de-escalation of tensions in the critical waterway. U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain’s response to Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz “will be considered but robust.” In comments on Twitter on Saturday, he said he spoke with Iran’s foreign minister and expressed extreme disappointment that the Iranian diplomat had assured him Iran wanted to de-escalate the situation but “they have behaved in the opposite way.” He wrote: “This has (to) be about actions not words if we are to find a way through. British shipping must & will be protected.” The free flow of traffic through the Strait of Hormuz is of international importance because one-fifth of all global crude exports passes through the waterway from Mideast exporters to countries around the world. The narrow waterway sits between Iran and Oman. The British-flagged Stena Impero was intercepted late Friday by Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard forces. The ship’s owner, Stena Bulk, said the vessel was stopped by “unidentified small crafts and a helicopter” during its transit through the Strait of Hormuz. The vessel was seized
Surveillance images released by the Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) dismissing Washington’s claims of downing an Iranian drone over the Strait of Hormuz indicate that the drone in question was a Mohajer-4 surveillance aircraft. The images, released on Friday, showed the drone monitoring the US navy’s USS Boxer amphibious assault ship along with a fleet of accompanying vessels. The Mohajer-4’s landing skids can be seen in the video. US President Donald Trump claimed on Thursday that the drone had been “immediately destroyed” after it flew to within 900 meters the USS Boxer and ignored “multiple calls to stand down.” The Pentagon claimed the warship had taken “defensive action” against an Iranian drone at 05:30 GMT on Thursday, a claim that was challenged by the IRGC drone’s imagery. But Iran said all of its drones were accounted for. “All drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz … returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control,” Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior Iranian armed forces spokesman, was quoted by Tasnim as saying. He said there was no report of any “operational response” by the Boxer and Iran’s state television broadcast a video showing aerial views of ships that it said disproved the U.S. claim. The television station said the footage, which came from the Revolutionary Guards, and the timing notations indicated the pilotless aircraft was still filming after Washington said it had been downed. The aircraft’s footage demonstrated that the Mohajer-4 continued its
Iran’s foreign minister said that his country has no choice but to manufacture missiles for defense purposes — comments that come after a remark by the top diplomat that seemed to suggest the missiles could be up for negotiations. Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News that aired earlier this week that if the U.S. wants to talk about Iran’s missiles, it needs “first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region.” Iran has long rejected negotiations over its ballistic missile program, which remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard that answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The foreign minister’s remarks seemed to suggest a possible opening for talks as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington. But the Iranian mission to the United Nations promptly called Zarif’s suggestion purely “hypothetical” and said the Iranian missiles were “absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period.” In Tehran, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tweeted late on Tuesday that Zarif’s comments meant to challenge Washington and “threw the ball into the U.S. court while challenging America’s arm sales” to its Mideast allies. Zarif himself on Wednesday said Iran has no choice but to manufacture the missiles for its own defense. He cited the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and tweeted that, “For 8 YEARS, Saddam (Hussein) showered our cities with missiles & bombs provided by East & West. Meanwhile, NO ONE sold Iran any means of defense. We
Iran is ready to hold talks with the United States if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has said it is open to negotiations with Iran on a more far-reaching agreement on nuclear and security issues. But Iran has made any talks conditional on first being able to export as much oil as it did before the United States withdrew from the nuclear pact with world powers in May 2018. “We have always believed in talks … if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere,” Rouhani said in his Sunday speech. In an interview with the Washington Post newspaper, Pompeo dismissed Rouhani’s idea as “the same offer that he offered to John F. Kerry and Barack Obama,” referring to the former U.S. secretary of state and president. “President Trump will obviously make the final decision. But this is a path that the previous administration had gone down and it led to the (Iran nuclear deal) which this administration, President Trump and I both believe was a disaster,” Pompeo said. Confrontations between Washington and Tehran have escalated, culminating in an aborted plan for U.S. air strikes on Iran last month after Tehran downed a U.S. drone. Trump called off the retaliatory U.S. air strike at the last minute.
The United States has decided not to impose sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for now, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday, in a sign Washington may be holding a door open for diplomacy. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on June 24 had said Zarif would be blacklisted that week, an unusual public stance because the United States typically does not preview such decisions to keep its targets from moving assets out of U.S. jurisdiction. Blacklisting Iran’s chief negotiator would also be unusual because it could impede any U.S. effort to use diplomacy to resolve its disagreements with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear programme, regional activities and missile testing. The sources did not give specific reasons for the decision, which came after two months in which U.S.-Iranian tensions have soared because of attacks on tankers in the Gulf that the United States blames on Iran, despite its denials, and Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone that prompted preparations for a U.S. retaliatory air strike that was called off minutes before it was due to hit. “Cooler heads prevailed. We … saw it as not necessarily helpful,” said one source familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had opposed designating Zarif “for the time being.” In a sign of how close Washington came to taking action, the U.S. Treasury internally circulated a draft press release announcing sanctions on the Iranian foreign minister. Zarif is expected to attend a