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July 21, 2019, 5:02 p.m. EDT

New audio shows British Navy ship was too far away to prevent Iran from seizing tanker

Incident has raised tensions in Persian Gulf

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By Associated Press

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European nations, which are trying to save the nuclear deal and keep Iran from isolation, have tried to come up with ways to keep trading with Iran but have run smack into Trump’s sanctions

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says the government plans to spell out its response in a briefing to Parliament on Monday. Officials have said a military response is extremely unlikely and Britain has taken steps to bolster its diplomatic efforts.

The tanker seizure comes at a ticklish time for Britain, which on Wednesday will see a new prime minister replace Theresa May. The two contenders for the job are front-runner Boris Johnson and Hunt, who has a key role in dealing with the shipping crisis.

British officials say they have no good military options, especially because the tanker is in a secure Iranian port with a heavy military presence. Defense minister Tobias Ellwood on Sunday reiterated calls for a tamping down of tensions.

“Well, firstly we need to try and de-escalate this,” he told Sky News. “There has been a ratcheting up of tensions in the Middle East.”

Ellwood called the seizure “a hostile act” but conceded that the British Royal Navy “is too small to manage our interests across the globe” and that this would be an issue for the next prime minister to handle.

Britain is adding to its military profile in the region but it does not have the naval resources that would be needed to protect all of its shipping interests.

The seizure of the British-flagged tanker is proving popular inside Iran.

In Tehran, some 160 lawmakers issued a joint statement Sunday praising the interception of the British-flagged vessel by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which has released video of the seizure showing Iranian commandos in black ski masks and fatigues rappelling from a helicopter onto the vessel.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used the opening session of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) forum in Venezuela on Saturday to blast U.S. foreign policy under Trump.

“A new wave of extreme one-sided adventurism from the United States is the main theme and the challenge that we all face in one way or another,” he said. “It’s threatening peace and stability all around the world in different ways.”

At the same time, Britain is gaining support among its traditional European allies. Germany’s foreign minister warned Iran that its seizure of commercial vessels is contributing to an “escalation spiral” that could lead to war.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was quoted Sunday in the Bild newspaper as saying the seizure of the British tanker and the temporary detention of another has made the situation in the Gulf “a lot more serious and dangerous than it has been.” He said European efforts are focused on keeping diplomatic channels open with “voices of reason” despite the challenges involved.

“This is about preventing war,” he said.

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