Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that Iran’s interception of commercial vessels, including its seizure of a British tanker, in Gulf waters was a violation of international law and urged the global community to deter such actions.
“Any disruption of the freedom of international maritime traffic is considered a violation of international law and the international community must do what is necessary to reject it and deter it,” the Saudi cabinet said in a statement carried on state media.
Iran said on Friday it had seized Britain’s Stena Impero tanker, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.
Britain described the seizure as an act of “state piracy” and called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the world’s most important oil artery.
Meanwhile, Iran warned Britain’s next prime minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday that it will “protect” waters of the oil-rich Gulf, amid a standoff between the two countries over the seizure of tankers.
In the face of rising hostilities with the US, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Friday impounded a tanker sailing under the flag of US ally Britain.
The seizure of the Stena Impero ship has been seen as a tit-for-tat move after British authorities detained an Iranian tanker on July 4 in the Mediterranean on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
“I congratulate my former counterpart, @BorisJohnson on becoming UK PM,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted after Johnson beat his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in a party vote. “Iran does not seek confrontation. But we have 1,500 miles of Gulf coastline. These are our waters & we will protect them.”
Iran’s top diplomat warned Britain against “implementing the ploys of the B team”, in a video message posted along with his tweet.
Zarif uses the term ‘B team’ to refer to US national security adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi and Abu Dhabi crown princes Mohammed Bin Salman and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, who are all pushing a hard line on Iran.
“The B Team is losing ground in the US and now turning their attention to the United Kingdom,” he tweeted.
Iran has impounded the Stena Impero at its port of Bandar Abbas for allegedly breaking “international maritime rules”.
“Throughout history, Iran has been and will be the main guardian of security and free navigation” in the Gulf, President Hassan Rouhani said late on Monday, adding that Tehran was not seeking to stoke tensions.
In new footage aired by Iranian state television, the crew of 18 Indians, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino are seen sitting around a table and seemingly going about their daily routines.
Since the US began reimposing sanctions on Iran, tensions have mounted with drones shot down and tankers mysteriously attacked in sensitive Gulf waters.
At the height of the crisis, US President Donald Trump called off air strikes against Iran at the last minute in June after the Islamic republic downed a US drone.
Iran also said on Monday it had arrested 17 suspects and sentenced some to death after dismantling a CIA spy network — claims Trump dismissed as “totally false”.
Tehran has been at loggerheads with Washington and its allies since May 2018, when Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran said it would attend a meeting in Vienna this weekend with countries still party to the troubled accord.
The meeting was requested by the European parties to discuss the “new situation”, Iran said, referring to its reduced nuclear commitments under the deal in response to the US withdrawal.
The EU confirmed Iran would meet envoys from the remaining parties — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — on Sunday.
Tehran has already given up on complying with some of the deal’s limits on its nuclear programme in retaliation for the US withdrawal and what it sees as the failure of other parties to help it circumvent sanctions.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi has left for France to deliver a message from Rouhani to his counterpart Emmanuel Macron, the ministry’s spokesman tweeted Tuesday, without elaborating.
Macron’s top diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne visited Iran on July 9 to “piece together a de-escalation” strategy and met top Iranian officials.