UK joins US in Gulf mission to rein in threat from Iran

Britain said Monday (August 5th) it will join forces with the US to protect merchant vessels in the Gulf amid heightened tensions with Iran, AFP reported.

Britain's decision to form the joint maritime task force with the US marks a departure in policy under new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after efforts under his predecessor Theresa May to form a European-led grouping.

It follows a spate of incidents -- including the seizure of ships -- between Iran and Western powers, in particular Britain and the US, centred on the vital Strait of Hormuz thoroughfare.

"The UK is determined to ensure her shipping is protected from unlawful threats, and for that reason we have today joined the new maritime security mission in the Gulf," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.

The announcement from Britain's defence ministry did not detail which, if any, other countries would be joining the new naval coalition.

Britain also stressed that it had not changed its broader policy towards Tehran.

"We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

Iran said on Sunday its forces had seized a "foreign" tanker carrying smuggled fuel in what would be the third such seizure in less than a month in Gulf waters -- a conduit for much of the world's crude oil.

Last month Iran had impounded the Panama-flagged MT Riah for alleged fuel smuggling as well as the British-flagged Stena Impero for breaking "international maritime rules".

In response to such incidents, the US has been seeking to form a coalition -- dubbed Operation Sentinel -- to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf.

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