US plans Gulf naval escorts
UK to send second warship; Iran asks UK to free tanker
WASHINGTON, July 12: The Pentagon said Thursday it was discussing military escorts for vessels in the Gulf one day after armed Iranian boats threatened a British oil tanker.
The White House's nominee to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said Washington was attempting to put together a coalition "in terms of providing military escort, naval escort to commercial shipping."
"I think that that will be developing over the next couple weeks," Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Britain will send a second warship to the Gulf, officials said Friday, temporarily deploying two vessels near Tehran's waters as tensions surge after armed Iranian boats threatened a British oil tanker.
A government spokesman said the HMS Duncan was "deploying to the region to ensure we maintain a continuous maritime security presence while HMS Montrose comes off task for pre-planned maintenance and crew change over".
The HMS Montrose was forced to warn off three fast Iranian gunboats on Wednesday that UK officials said were trying to "impede" the progress of a British supertanker through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.
Iran has reiterated calls for the UK to release an Iranian-owned oil tanker which was detained by Royal Marines in Gibraltar last week. An Iranian official, speaking to state news agency IRNA, warned the UK not to get involved in "this dangerous game".
Both, like the United States, maintain a constant naval presence in the Gulf. But London and Paris have been reticent to join in Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran to force it to pull back on its involvement in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Tensions in the Gulf have increased in the past few weeks, with Iran's economy in free fall following the re-imposition of US sanctions after President Donald Trump pulled out from a 2015 international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program.
A joint effort would reprise the 1987-1988 US-led operation to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers from Iranian attacks during the Iran-Iraq war.
British defense sources said that the Revolutionary Guards' boats attempted to first stop and then divert the supertanker towards the Iranian shore. The HMS Montrose, a Royal Navy frigate, then trained its guns on the Iranian boats and delivered a "cease and desist" message by radio. -AFP