Iran Rejects Call for EU-Led Security Mission in Persian Gulf

The Stena Impero (Stena)

Published Jul 23, 2019 9:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

Tory politician and former British foreign minister Boris Johnson has won the contest to become the next prime minister of the UK, succeeding Theresa May, who agreed to step down earlier this year.

Johnson, who has promoted the idea of an independent, global Britain, inherits the complexities of Brexit and a tense standoff with Iran over the seizure of two tankers - the detention of the Iranian-controlled VLCC Grace 1 by UK Royal Marines on July 4 and the capture of the UK-flagged Stena Impero by Iranian commandos on July 19. 

May's government has called on Iran to release the Swedish-owned, Indian-crewed Impero immediately, though foreign minister Jeremy Hunt has explicitly ruled out the possibility of military action. Likewise, Iran has called for Britain (via the government of Gibraltar) to release the Grace 1, but has also emphasized that it does not want confrontation. Both nations have described the seizures as acts of "piracy."

In a post on social media Tuesday, Iranian foreign minister Zavad Jarif congratulated Johnson on his success, but he warned that Iran will defend its interests. “Iran does not seek confrontation,” Zarif wrote. “But we have 1500 miles of Persian Gulf coastline. These are our waters and we will protect them.”

Iran has also rejected Hunt's proposal to assemble an EU-sponsored maritime security mission in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf. On Tuesday, Zarif asserted that Iran is the nation responsible for safety and freedom of navigation in the region. "It is much, much better for the United Kingdom not to be engaged in implementing the ploys of the B-Team," he said. (Zarif refers to U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman as "the B-Team," grouping them together for their hawkish views on Iran.)

Boris Johnson is a prominent Euroskeptic, and he won his new post in part by promising a swift departure for Britain from the EU. Analysts noted that it remains to be seen how his overarching Britain-first policy goals will align with Hunt's plan for a pan-European naval mission abroad. It is also unclear whether Hunt - who ran unsuccessfully against Johnson for the position of prime minister - will remain in his post beyond the transition period. 

In comments to media Tuesday, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian did not explicitly endorse Hunt's plan for an EU maritime coalition in the Gulf, but he indicated that France would support a "monitor and observe" effort. The French government will be "setting up a European initiative, with Britain and Germany, to ensure that there is a mission to monitor and observe maritime security in the Gulf," Le Drian said.