Divisions have emerged over plans for a European naval mission in the Persian Gulf, with Britain suggesting the operation would need US support while France and Germany insist it stay independent of America.
In a first sign that the UK may move closer to the US position on Iran under Boris Johnson, the new foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said a European mission was probably not “viable” without American help.
“I think we do want to see a European-led approach, but that doesn’t seem to me to be viable without American support as well,” Mr Raab told The Times.
That marks a shift from Jeremy Hunt, Mr Raab’s predecessor, who proposed a European naval mission separate from America’s Operation Sentinel.
Both missions are intended to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz from Iranian threats but the US-led operation is widely seen in Europe as part of Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” to force Iranian capitulation on nuclear and regional issues.
Mr Raab’s comments are likely to unsettle Germany and France, both of which have stated that any European effort must be independent from the US.
“We have made clear that we do not subscribe to the United States’ policy of maximum pressure. Our efforts in the region must be recognisably European,” said Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister.
He added that Germany would not decide whether to join the naval effort until there was “a clear idea of what such a mission would look like”.
France said the European mission would be "the opposite of the American initiative” and was not intended to provoke Iran.
It remains unclear whether the three European states would have the naval strength for a mission independent of the US.
The HMS Duncan, a destroyer, is due to join and then replace the HMS Montrose, a frigate, in Strait of Hormuz and will be responsible for escorting British ships through the strategic waterway.
Up to three British-flagged ships pass through the Strait on any given day and the government is encouraging shipping firms to alert the Royal Navy ahead of time so they can be escorted.
US officials said they were prepared to share intelligence with Western allies but would not provide escorts to other nations’ ships.
Meanwhile, Iran released Indian nine crew members from the MT Riah, a ship seized a week before the British-flagged Stena Impero. Three Indian crew remain in Iranian custody. It was not clear why some were freed and others were not.
Their release is a potentially hopeful sign for the 23 crew members of the Stena Impero, 18 of whom are Indian. There are also three Russians, a Latvian, and a Filipino. The ship’s operator said the crew were in good health and staying aboard the ship.