Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has underscored that Tehran is not interested in an escalation of a conflict with the UK over a bilateral tanker seizure row.
“It is very important for [British prime ministerial hopeful] Boris Johnson as he enters 10 Downing Street to understand that Iran does not seek confrontation, that Iran wants normal relations based on mutual respect”, Zarif told journalists in Nicaragua’s capital Managua.
He made the statement when asked about whether he had a message to Johnson who is tipped to replace Theresa May as the UK’s new Prime Minister.
Referring to the UK Royal Marines’ seizure of the Iranian tanker Grace 1 in the Strait of Gibraltar earlier this month, Zarif reiterated that it was “piracy” and “a violation of international law”.
He blamed the US for orchestrating the incident, claiming that “it was clear from the very beginning that the United Kingdom was doing the bidding for the Trump administration".
Zarif also accused London of acting “holier than the Pope” and using rules the “EU itself would not do”; he stressed that “everybody understands that starting a conflict may be easy, but ending it would be impossible”.
He was referring to claims by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who earlier insisted that London wanted to "de-escalate" tensions with Iran but added that the Grace 1 tanker was captured because “it was carrying oil, against EU sanctions, to Syria", allegations that Tehran denies.
Zarif’s message to Johnson comes against the background of Iran-UK tensions which were sparked by the 4 July seizure of the Grace 1 and further deteriorated on 19 July, when Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) detained the UK-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz.
The IRGC accused the tanker’s crew of violating maritime regulations, with Iran’s Speaker Ali Larijani saying that the ship was taken in retaliation for the Grace 1’s detention.
Responding to the Stena Impero’s seizure, Hunt pledged to “put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage of both crew and cargo” through the Persian Gulf.
Hunt added that the mission will be centred on “free navigation”, and that it would “not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran, because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement”, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has, meanwhile, pointed out that it “falls to” the UK to protect its ships in the Persian Gulf, in a sign that the US is letting the ongoing diplomatic spat between London and Tehran play out by itself.