Saudi Arabia urges global action against Iran after UK tanker seized

Riyadh says Tehran’s behavior in Gulf is ‘completely unacceptable’ as Britain set to hold emergency meeting on spiraling crisis

A picture taken on July 21, 2019, shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrolling around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. (Hasan Shirvani / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP)
A picture taken on July 21, 2019, shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrolling around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. (Hasan Shirvani / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP)

Saudi Arabia on Sunday slammed Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in sensitive Gulf waters as “completely unacceptable” and urged world powers to “take actions to deter such behavior.”

“Any attack on the freedom of navigation is a violation of international law,” Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs Adel al-Jubeir wrote on Twitter.

“Iran must realize that its acts of intercepting ships, including most recently the British ship, are completely unacceptable.”

Oman called on Iran earlier Sunday to release the Stena Impero, which was impounded with its 23 crew members at the port of Bandar Abbas after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized it in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir (C) gestures during a meeting of Islamic and Arab Foreign Ministers in Jeddah on May 30, 2019, ahead of the Gulf, Arab, and Islamic summit to be held in Mecca on 30 and 31 May 2019. (BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP)

The Gulf state, which unlike Saudi Arabia maintains strong ties with Iran, urged London and Tehran to resolve their dispute through diplomacy.

Oman “looks forward to the Iranian government’s release of the British ship,” the foreign ministry said on Twitter.

It called on the Islamic Republic and the United Kingdom “to resolve their differences through diplomatic channels.”

The sultanate said it was in contact with all parties to guarantee the safety of commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint for about a third of the world’s sea-borne oil.

On Saturday, Britain urged Tehran to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf by releasing the tanker it said had been illegally seized in Omani waters.

Iran, which says it seized the tanker for breaking “international maritime rules” remained defiant to US and European calls to release the ship and has launched an investigation.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke Sunday to his French and German counterparts over Iran’s seizure of the UK-flagged tanker in the Gulf, his office said.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves a meeting at 10 Downing Street for talks about the British oil tanker Stena Impero which was captured by Iran, July 20, 2019. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

“Both ministers agreed with the foreign secretary that safe passage for vessels through the Strait of Hormuz is a top priority for European nations, while avoiding any possible escalation,” it said in a statement.

“They agreed to keep in close contact and to work together to achieve this,” the statement said.

Prime Minister Theresa May will hold a meeting of Britain’s emergencies committee on Monday to discuss the seizure of the Swedish-owned Stena Impero.

In its letter to the UN Security Council, Britain said that Iran had claimed that the Stena Impero had tried to enter the strait through the exit route, while not responding to messages or warnings and with its transponder switched off.

“This is not the case,” the letter said.

Iranian officials have also claimed that the tanker was detained due to a collision with an Iranian fishing boat, the letter said, adding: “There is no evidence of this.

“Even if it had occurred, the ship’s location within Omani territorial waters means that Iran would not have been permitted to intercept the Stena Impero.”

Junior Defense Minister Tobias Ellwood said Sunday that Britain was considering several options.

Asked if Britain could introduce new sanctions or freeze Iranian assets, Finance Minister Philip Hammond told BBC television: “We’ve already got a wide raft of sanctions against Iran, particularly financial sanctions, so it’s not clear that there are immediate things we can do but we are of course looking at all the options.”

Tensions in the Gulf have soared since May, with US President Donald Trump calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute in June after the Islamic Republic downed a US drone.

The United States has also blamed Iran for multiple attacks on tankers in the Gulf.

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos adheres to a strict policy of non-interference in regional affairs, maintaining relations with rivals Saudi Arabia — a staunch US ally — and Iran.

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