European Countries Devising Maritime 'Observation' Mission in Gulf

Saudi Arabia calls on international community to 'do what is necessary' to deter Iran's interception of commercial vessels in Strait of Hormuz

File photo: Iranian naval ships near the Strait of Hormuz.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said his country was working with European capitals to improve maritime security in the Persian Gulf but stopped short of backing Britain’s call for a naval mission to ensure safe shipping in the region.

Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday told lawmakers a de-escalation of tensions was needed several days after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in what London said was an act of “state piracy”.

“This is why we are setting up a European initiative, with Britain and Germany, to ensure that there is a mission to monitor and observe maritime security in the Gulf,” Le Drian said.

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Also on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's cabinet said that Iran's interception of commercial vessels in Gulf waters violated international law and must be prevented.

"Any disruption of the freedom of international maritime traffic is considered a violation of international law and the international community must do what is necessary to reject it and deter it," the Saudi cabinet said in a statement carried on state media.

Iran said on Friday it had seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.

Iraq, which counts its bigger neighbor Iran and the United States as its main allies, said on Tuesday Tehran had reassured it that there would be freedom of international maritime navigation in the Gulf.

Iran communicated this to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi during a visit by him to Tehran on Monday, the Iraqi oil ministry said in a statement.

"Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (gave) reassurances to the Iraqi delegation ... around guaranteeing freedom of navigation in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz and respect for international law guaranteeing that," the statement said.

Iraq has sought a mediation role to calm U.S.-Iran tension in the region, fearing that any violent escalation between Washington and the Islamic Republic could play out on Iraqi soil, where both Iran-backed militias and U.S. forces operate in close proximity.