Britain says it will join a US-led mission to protect merchant vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. Germany has rejected joining the mission, which comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West.
Britain said on Monday that it would join the United States in an "international maritime security mission" in the Strait of Hormuz, which has become a focus of Western tensions with Iran amid a spate of incidents in the strategically important waterway.
"This deployment will reinforce security and provide reassurance for shipping," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
Raab, however, insisted that Britain's participation did not mean it had changed its conciliatory stance on Iran.
"We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal," he said, referring to a landmark 2015 agreement that placed curbs on Iran's nuclear program in return for the lifting or lightening of international sanctions.
The US withdrew from the deal last year and has adopted instead a strategy of exerting what President Donald Trump calls "maximum pressure" on Tehran. Washington fears Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and says the country is involved in expansionist activities.
The US announced the mission to protect merchant vessels passing through the strait after Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero and the Panama-flagged MZ Riah in the thoroughfare last month. Iranian state media said the country had seized another oil tanker in the Gulf on Sunday.
The seizures have been seen as retaliation after British troops were involved in an operation on July 4 to capture the tanker Grace 1, which was carrying Iranian oil, off the British territory of Gibraltar. The ship was allegedly transporting the oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
Britain has now become the first nation to join the US in the mission. Germany on Wednesday said it would not take part in the operation, saying it did not want to escalate the situation in the region.
The UK is anxious to maintain good relations with the US, whose importance as a trading partner and ally is likely to grow if Britain brings off its imminent planned departure from the European Union. However, by siding too much with Washington, it risks hurting its ties with the big EU powers, which remain opposed to the hard-line US stance on Iran and want to salvage the accord, which Britain was instrumental in negotiating.
The decision to join the mission is the most significant foreign policy decision not directly regarding Brexit that has so far been taken by new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government in the 12 days it has been in power.
tj/msh (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)