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Iran says international naval coalition to bring insecurity in region

TEHRAN, Iran: Senior Iranian officials have warned against any attempt to form an international coalition to protect shipping in the Gulf, with the Islamic republic’s first vice president saying the move will only bring insecurity to the region.

The response came after Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and France on Tuesday backed the UK’s proposal for a European naval force after Tehran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Relations between the UK and Iran have been strained since British authorities detained an Iranian tanker earlier this month off the coast of Gibraltar on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Iran has accused the UK of acting at the behest of the US and demanded the immediate release of the ship.

On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif congratulated Boris Johnson, who is set to take over as the next prime minister from Theresa May amid the diplomatic standoff between the two countries.

“Iran does not seek confrontation. But we have 1,500 miles of Persian Gulf coastline. These are our waters and we will protect them,” he tweeted.

Abbas Araqchi, Zarif’s deputy, on Tuesday said Tehran would secure the Strait of Hormuz and not allow any disturbance in shipping in the key oil transport waterway, as regional rivals, particularly Saudi Arabia, have sought a Western military presence in the region.

Last week, the US deployed military personnel in Saudi Arabia to counter what they perceive as an Iranian threat. Washington also sent warships and a Patriot missile defence battery to the region.

The Iranian capture of the ship in the global oil trade’s most important waterway was the latest escalation in three months of spiralling confrontation with the West that began when new, tighter US sanctions took effect at the start of May.

Iran maintains the seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker was due to failure “to respect international maritime rules”.

The British foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, has called it “an act of state piracy”, but his Iranian counterpart Zarif denied the ship’s seizure was a retaliatory act.