Iranian FM Zarif welcomes Johnson as British PM, but warns Iran will defend its waters

Tensions between Britain and Iran have steadily risen in recent weeks, beginning with Britain’s seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar two weeks ago. British authorities said the tanker was laden with oil bound for Syria, a violation of EU sanctions. Iran responded in kind by impounding a British-flagged tanker on Friday, although Tehran said the ship had been involved in a collision with a fishing boat and had violated maritime law. 

Iranian forces also boarded a Glasgow-based but Liberian-registered tanker the same day, but later allowed it to continue its voyage.

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With Boris Johnson due to officially assume prime ministerial duties on Wednesday, the tanker standoff with Iran will be his first foreign policy test. Zarif congratulated Johnson on Tuesday, but issued a warning: “Iran does not seek confrontation. But we have 1500 miles of Persian Gulf coastline.These are our waters & we will protect them.”

Zarif’s warning came a day after Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt –who lost the Conservative Party’s leadership race against Johnson– called for the formation of a “European-led maritime protection”mission in the Persian Gulf. What such a mission would look like is unclear, but Hunt’s statement echoes US Central Command’s announcement of ‘Operation Sentinel’ last week – a “multinational maritime effort” to protect western shipping in the region.

“It is much, much better for the United Kingdom not to be engaged in implementing the ploys of the ‘B Team,’” Zarif continued. “The ‘B Team’ is losing ground in the United States and now they’re turning their attention to the United Kingdom,” he added, the ‘B Team’ being a reference to US National Security Advisor John Bolton and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both Iran hardliners with President Donald Trump’s ear.

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Zarif has often deployed this phrase on Twitter, accusing the pair of attempting to goad President Trump into war with Iran. Trump himself has called Bolton out on his hawkish stance too, reportedly saying “John has never seen a war he doesn’t like” in a recent Oval Office meeting.

Back in Britain, Johnson has not yet stated how he will resolve the tanker standoff with Tehran. One day earlier, outgoing PM Theresa May chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra, and reports circulated that ministers were considering freezing Iranian assets.

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