UK envoy: Easing tensions top priority
Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) released a new video showing its troops warning a British warship escorting a UK-flagged tanker being warned by not to interfere in their seizure of the commercial vessel earlier this month.
The nearly two-minute video contains footage of the capture of the tanker, showing Iranian commandos abseiling onto the deck of the Stena Impero from a helicopter, with the audio recording superimposed.
It shows the British warship Foxtrot 236 during the escort and subsequent seizure of the tanker on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz, the critical shipping waterway between Iran and Oman. The seizure was two weeks after British forces captured a supertanker carrying Iranian oil near Gibraltar accused of violating EU sanctions on Syria.
The IRGC seized the British tanker near the Strait of Hormuz on July 19, after it tried to flee the scene of a major collision with an Iranian fishing boat.
"British warship Foxtrot 236, this is Sepah [IRGC] navy patrol boat: You are required not to interfere in this issue," an Iranian naval officer can be heard saying.
An officer on board the warship responds: "This is British warship Foxtrot 236: I am in vicinity of an internationally recognized strait with a merchant vessel in my vicinity conducting transit passage."
The Iranian officer replies: "British warship Foxtrot 236, this is Sepah [IRGC] navy patrol boat: Don't put your life in danger."
The IRGC also released recordings of another incident on July 10.
"This is British warship Foxtrot 236, go ahead," a British naval officer can be heard saying.
His Iranian counterpart responds by saying: "British warship Foxtrot 236, this is Sepah [IRGC] navy warship... your tanker British Heritage under my control. You are ordered do not to interfere in my operation."
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged Iran on Monday to release the Stena Impero if it wants to "come out of the dark."
"If the Iranians want to come of the dark and be accepted as a responsible member of the intentional community they need to adhere to rules-based system of the international community," Raab told Sky News.
"You cannot go about detaining unlawfully foreign vessels."
Britain last week started sending a warship to accompany all British-flagged vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, a change in policy announced on Thursday after the government previously said it did not have resources to do so.
Britain’s Defence Ministry said on Sunday that a second warship, the HMS Duncan, had arrived in the Persian Gulf to support the passage of British-flagged ships through the strait, joining the HMS Montrose.
In another interview on Monday with BBC radio, Raab said that the two seizures of ships were not equivalent.
"The Grace 1 was intercepted because it was in breach of sanctions and heading with oil for Syria and that was the intelligence," he said, referring to the Iranian ship seized by Britain.
Iran denies that the tanker was destined to Syria.
"We were absolutely lawful entitled to detain it in the way we did. The Stena Impero was unlawfully detained. This is not about some kind of barter. This is about the international law and the rules of the international legal system being upheld and that is what we will insist on."
Iran has said it did not capture the Stena Impero in retaliation for the Grace 1 seizure. Iran says the UK vessel had collided with an Iranian fishing boat and violated international maritime law.
President Hassan Rouhani said Britain’s seizure of the supertanker was illegal and will be detrimental for the UK.
Raab was asked if he hoped for US support for a British-proposed European naval task force to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. He said he wanted to see a European-led approach but it would be important to have the initiative have US support to make it "viable and effective."
Britain has so far only received a cool response from the continent to its proposal for a multinational escort fleet.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei also on Sunday slammed as "provocative" the British proposal for a European-led naval mission to escort tankers in the Persian Gulf.
"We heard that they intend to send a European fleet to the Persian Gulf which naturally carries a hostile message, is provocative and will increase tensions," Rabiei said.
The British ambassador in Iran said on Monday that his country seeks to ease tensions.
“Alleviating the level of tensions still remains a top priority for Britain and the embassy,” Robert Macaire tweeted in Persian.
Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to this story.