Iran’s president has warned Britain it will face “consequences” for seizing an Iranian supertanker carrying oil last week, an operation Tehran claims was in response to a request from the US.
"I tell the British that it is you who began maritime conflicts and you should be aware of the consequences," Hassan Rouhani said in a cabinet meeting broadcast on state television on Wednesday. "This means Britain is directly responsible for whatever happens after this [incident]."
The threat by the Iranian president came after the top US military commander said the Pentagon was talking to a number of countries about putting together a naval task force to "ensure freedom of navigation" in waters close to Iran and Yemen.
Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the US would provide "command and control" for the operation. He did not specify which countries were involved in the initiative.
The US has a sizeable naval presence in the region centred around the headquarters of the fifth fleet in Bahrain.
The British Ministry of Defence said it was “continuously monitoring the security situation in the Gulf” but denied reports that a Royal Navy ship that is based in the region had been ordered to escort British oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz.
The dispute with the UK comes as tensions between the west and Iran escalate amid a battle to save the 2015 nuclear accord that Tehran signed with world powers. It follows the shooting down of a US drone by Iran last month, which claimed that it entered the country’s airspace.
Iran announced this week that it would go ahead with its previous threats to increase uranium enrichment levels in protest at the reimposition of US sanctions and European states’ failure to deliver on promised economic dividends under the landmark deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN watchdog, has confirmed that Iran has gone beyond the 3.67 per cent enrichment limit. The US has urged the IAEA board of governors to meet on Wednesday to discuss the Iran crisis.
Mr Rouhani said it was “ridiculous” for the US to push for a special IAEA meeting and said the US could not deprive Iran of enriching uranium when it was doing so itself. He said no negotiations could happen with the US unless it first abandoned all sanctions against Iran.
Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the IAEA board members were not in a position to make any decisions on the nuclear deal and warned that no snapback mechanism of the UN sanctions could be implemented.
Mr Zarif is due to meet a top aide of French president Emmanuel Macron in Tehran on Wednesday. The visit by Emmanuel Bonne, the French president's diplomatic adviser, is part of new European efforts to save the nuclear accord and to persuade the Islamic republic to stop retaliatory moves that could inflame the situation. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019