Tension Heightens as UK Sends Warships to Iran
A potential conflict with Iran warms up but a peaceful settlement is still possible.
“Iran on Friday demanded the British navy release an Iranian oil tanker seized last week off Gibraltar, accusing London of playing a ‘dangerous game’ and threatening retribution, while London announced it was sending a destroyer to the Persian Gulf,” reported the Associated Press (AP) on Friday.
The move by the United Kingdom comes just over a month after the United States sent the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier to the region due to heightened tensions.
Those events would only be the beginning to a new chapter of an increasingly volatile situation, where the lives of millions in the Middle East, especially in Iran are at stake.
United Kingdom Sends Second Warship to Iran
“[HMS] Duncan will operate alongside the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose, and U.S. allies in the Gulf, but she will not be part of an international maritime coalition proposed by Washington,” read a Sky News report. “It is understood that Duncan was always due to travel to the region to give some relief to HMS Montrose.”
According to statements by outgoing United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson, conversations between the United Kingdom and the United States concerning increasing their military presence in the Gulf are ongoing.
U.K. Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said it is “time for cool heads” before adding, “We want to do everything we can to make sure that we don’t have an unintended escalation, which could be very dangerous for the world.”
However, Iranian clerics and officials remain defiant after the seizing of the Grace 1 tanker earlier in July, warning that the U.K. will pay retribution for insulting Iran.
“They should officially announce that we (the U.K.) are servants of America and act on behalf of America. America has returned their favor well by insulting their ambassador and their prime minister,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “The release of the tanker is in all countries’ interest.”
“You (U.K.) are the initiator of insecurity and you will realize the consequences later,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani July 11 in response to the ongoing situation.
Hope for Peaceful Resolution Exists
“Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear weapon. We think there is still a closing, but small, window to keep the deal alive,” said Hunt after a meeting with European Union officials regarding the Iran nuclear deal. United States President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran Nuclear Deal on May 8, 2018. Hunt also confirmed that he is working with multiple parties to preserve the deal.
1/2 Important discussions with EU colleagues including @JY_LeDrian and @ministerBlok about Iran: we support nuclear deal but there can be no ‘partial’ compliance. You are either on path to a nuclearised Middle East or not… pic.twitter.com/XMlKixjM3f
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) July 15, 2019
A joint statement released by the E3 countries (France, Germany, U.K.) details their desire to resolve the tumultuous situation:
“Today, we are concerned by the risk that the JCPoA further unravels under the strain of sanctions imposed by the United States and following Iran’s decision to no longer implement several of the central provisions of the agreement. We are extremely concerned by Iran’s decision to stockpile and enrich uranium in excess of authorised limits. Moreover, our three countries are deeply troubled by the attacks we have witnessed in the Persian Gulf and beyond, and by the deterioration of the security in the region….
“Our countries have recently taken several diplomatic initiatives to contribute to deescalation and dialogue, for which signs of goodwill are urgently needed, from all sides. While we continue to support the JCPoA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action aka Iran Nuclear Deal], its continuation is contingent on Iran’s full compliance, and we strongly urge Iran to reverse its recent decisions in this regard. We will continue to explore the avenues of dialogue foreseen under the agreement to address Iran’s compliance, including through the Joint Commission of the JCPoA.”
Iran’s Uranium Enrichment
On July 7, Iran announced it would exceed the previous uranium enrichment level of 3.67% which was capped under the provisions of the JCPoA. Iran now says it will enrich uranium to 4.5%, which LiveScience reports is enough to power its already-active Bushehr nuclear reactor, but falls far short of the 90% threshold for “weapons-grade” uranium.
Prior to the announcement, Iran maintained it wanted to salvage the JCPoA, but blamed European countries for not doing enough to protect Tehran from U.S. sanctions applied after the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA under the Trump administration. Iran had warned it no longer abide by the provisions of the agreement unless the pact’s signatories found solutions.
If the nuclear arrangement with Iran can be salvaged by the negotiating parties, it’s possible the region can avoid a catastrophic military conflict. Due to the geography of Iran, its military strength and its size, any conflict will likely surpass the ruin caused by the most recent war in Iraq.