Britain’s defense secretary said the U.K. could send further military assets to the Strait of Hormuz to deter any attempt by Iran to block the Persian Gulf’s oil tanker traffic.
Iran has threatened to close off the route, which handles one-fifth of the world’s oil, after the European Union imposed an oil embargo on Tehran.
Philip Hammond said yesterday the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, along with British and French warships, had entered the Gulf on Jan. 22 to “send a clear signal.” Hammond said Britain had a “contingent capability to reinforce that presence should at any time it be considered necessary to do so.”
Iranian leaders repeated long-standing threats to close off the Strait after the EU imposed the embargo Jan. 23 as part of sanctions to pressure Tehran into resuming talks on the country’s controversial nuclear program.
The three warships, which included Britain’s HMS Argyll frigate that entered the Gulf on Jan. 22, had sent “a clear signal about the resolve of the international community to defend the right of free passage through international waters,” Hammond said. “We also maintain mine-counter measure vessels in the Gulf, which are an important part of the overall allied presence there and, of course, the U.K. has a contingent capability to reinforce that presence should at any time it be considered necessary to do so,” he said.
Britain’s Defense Ministry declined to offer specific detail on what assets and personnel are currently in the Persian Gulf but said it had about 1,500 Navy personnel in the region east of Suez, including the Middle East and Indian Ocean.
Four anti-mine vessels are based out of Bahrain, and Britain also has two frigates including HMS Argyll, three support ships, a survey vessel and one hunter-killer nuclear submarine in the region, the ministry said.
The U.S. and its allies have already warned they would take swift action against any Iranian moves to choke off the 50-km-wide Strait of Hormuz.
At the center of the dispute is international concern over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran insists is aimed at providing civilian power. The U.S. and other nations accuse Iran of attempting to build nuclear weapons, and Tehran is now under several rounds of U.N. sanctions over its failures to be forthcoming about its work.
Hammond said recently that Iran was “working flat out” to produce a nuclear weapon.