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The United Kingdom is trying to defuse an escalating stalemate with Iran just days before Britain's ruling Conservative Party announces the successor to retired Theresa May. [TODAY] The Tories are to declare Boris Johnson their new president on Tuesday
. Johnson is a mercurial, brexit-friendly former foreign minister, who was also the mayor of London and is not known for his diplomacy. If he sits on Wednesday as expected, he will inherit a sweeping international crisis that broke out on Friday after the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had captured a British-flagged commercial oil tanker named Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz.
Britain has warned its ships to stay out of the straits, which has become a focus of tensions between the United States and Iran. Commercial tankers carry one fifth of the world's crude oil across the straits.
British Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt described the seizure of Stena Impero and its 23 crew by Iran as "hostile and illegal action". She insists that the tanker, which was sailing to a port in Saudi Arabia, was in the territorial waters of Oman when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards attacked him. Iran claims that Stena Impero collided with an Iranian fishing vessel and violated maritime safety.
But Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt – the other prime minister candidate – told reporters Saturday that Iran had not concealed that the move was likely to be retaliation. Hunt made the statement after phoning his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif.
"Talks with him and Iran's statements indicate they see this as an occasion for the deportment of Grace 1 in Gibraltar," Hunt said.
Grace 1 is the Iranian-flagged tanker that raided the British Royal Marines on July 4 as they sailed through waters off the coast of Gibraltar. The British said they had confiscated the tanker because they suspected that he was going to Syria to circumvent the sanctions of the European Union against the regime of the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The British are still holding the ship.
On Twitter Zarif called the seizure of the tanker "piracy" and said Britain needed to "stop being a side effect of the #Economic Terrorism of the USA". Zarif insists that Iran comply with the law of the sea by seizing the Stena Impero. [MaritimesecurityfirmDryadGlobalreleasedAudioonSundaytheminutebeforethecaptureofthetankThefateofStenaImperotakesplaceintworadiotalksAnIranianRevolutionaryGuardofficersaysinEnglish"Youareurgedtochangeyourcourseto3-6-0degreesimmediatelyandifyouobeyyou'resafe"InanothercallaRoyalNavyofficeronaBritishwarshiptheMontroseinstructsthecrewoftheStenaImperotostayoncourse
"While making a transit passage on a recognized international road, your passage may not be impaired, obstructed or obstructed under international law," the officer says.
The British say the Montrose has prevented Iran from interfering in another British road tanker earlier this month. But this time the Montrose was more than an hour away, according to Mordaunt, the UK defense minister.
In footage published by Iranian news agency Fars, Iranian speedboats and helicopters surrounded the Stena Impero. Masked Marines of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard watch as they scale down ropes from the helicopters to the oil tanker. Soon the Stena Impero was on its way to the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran.
The Iranian government says crew members from India, Russia, Latvia and the Philippines are "safe and in good health". Of the 23 crew members, 18 are from India. "We are investigating further details of the incident," Indian government spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement. "Our mission is in contact with the Iranian government to ensure the early release and repatriation of Indian nationals."
The British demand the immediate release of the tanker and its crew – so far without success. The British Foreign Ministry has also called Iran's best diplomats to Britain.
Hunt says the tanker's seizure shows "worrying signs that Iran could take a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior." He said the UK government's response would be "thoughtful but robust." The British newspaper Daily Telegraph reports that the UK is expected to announce on Monday "diplomatic and economic measures" against Iran.
US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, traveling in Latin America, said Iran must be open to talks.
"The Iranian regime must make a decision that it wants to behave like a normal nation, and if they do, we are ready to negotiate a wide range of issues," he said of the Stena Impero is also Europe-wide worrying. In a statement, France said it condemned Iran's actions and expressed its "full solidarity with the United Kingdom". Germany issued a statement denouncing the seizure of the tanker as "unjustified" and urging Iran to release the ship and its crew immediately.
Britain, France and Germany have signed the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which President Trump had announced he would resign last year. Under the Pact, Iran agreed to reduce its nuclear work in exchange for easing the sanctions. The US withdrawal from the agreement was followed by new economic sanctions against Iran.
Iran has since violated the provisions of the Agreement and enriched uranium beyond the limit set out in the Agreement.
Last week, John Negroponte, former United States National Director of National Intelligence and Ambassador to the United Nations, told the NPR that Iran's breaches of the treaty bring closer the construction of a nuclear bomb.
"Enrichment and stockpiling at a higher level than that agreed in the JCPOA would be a step toward a nuclear eruption," Negroponte said in reference to the nuclear deal. "The newly announced levels of Iran appear modest at the moment, but would be more worrisome with further increases, which would imply Iran's willingness to go all the way to building a bomb."
One-fifth of global oil supplies travel through the Strait of Hormuz, with tankers carrying crude oil from the Middle East to countries around the world. The waterway has been a hotbed of escalating tensions between the US and Iran.
The US has announced plans to send troops and air defense missiles to Saudi Arabia. Late on Friday, United States Central Command said it was working on a "multinational maritime effort" called Operation Sentinel to improve the surveillance and safety of key waterways in the Middle East and provide navigation freedom in light of recent events in the Arabian Gulf ensure region.
Lauren Frayer of NPR contributed to the coverage.