Tensions soar after Iran seizes tanker

By Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond and Joshua Berlinger, CNN

Updated 7:31 a.m. ET, July 24, 2019
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11:00 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

UK holds second emergency meeting in 24 hours

The UK government is convening its second emergency meeting of national security officials in less than 24 hours to discuss the seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf, a Downing Street spokeswoman has told CNN.

It has warned ships connected to the country's shipping industry to "stay out of the area" in the interim.

10:26 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Senior Russian lawmaker: US seeks ‘advantage’ in Gulf tensions

From CNN’s Mary Ilyushina in Moscow

A Senior Russian lawmaker has claimed that the United States is “taking advantage” of tensions in the Persian Gulf in order to deploy more troops to the region.

“It is already clear who will be the first to take advantage of the escalated situation in the Strait of Hormuz and in the Middle East in general: The Pentagon has just approved the transfer of troops to Saudi Arabia," Russian senator Konstantin Kosachev said in a post on Facebook.

The Trump administration is reinforcing its controversial military relationship with Saudi Arabia by preparing to send hundreds of troops to the country amid increasing tensions with Iran, CNN learned Wednesday.

Five hundred troops are expected to go to the Prince Sultan Air Base, located in a desert area east of the Saudi capital of Riyadh, according to US two defense officials. A small number of troops and support personnel are already on site with initial preparations being made for a Patriot missile defense battery as well as runway and airfield improvements, the officials said.

The US has wanted to base troops there for some time because security assessments have shown Iranian missiles would have a difficult time targeting the remote area.

The decision comes as US and Saudi relations remain extremely sensitive amid bipartisan congressional anger how the administration handled the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

But the Trump administration has said it is committed to trying to help protect Saudi Arabia against Iranian aggression.

"Neither Iran nor the United States, by and large, are interested in a real war," Kosachev wrote. "However, the ‘game of nerves’ and the raising of stakes will continue."

10:08 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

UK Foreign Secretary expresses "extreme disappointment" with Iran's actions

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt onstage during the Conservative leadership hustings in Cheltenham, England on July 12.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt onstage during the Conservative leadership hustings in Cheltenham, England on July 12.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday afternoon that he had spoken directly with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, following the seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Hunt expressed his "extreme disappointment" with Iran's actions, saying in a post on Twitter that Zarif had "assured" him the Islamic Republic wanted to de-escalate the situation.

"They have behaved in the opposite way," Hunt said in a tweet. "This has 2 be about actions not words if we are to find a way through."

The UK Foreign Office confirmed to CNN that it has summoned the Iranian Chargé d'affaires to deal with the situation.

9:58 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

UK summons Iranian diplomat over tank seizure

The UK Foreign Office has summoned Iran’s charge d'affaires following the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

The British government has condemned the actions of Iran, describing them as “dangerous” and “illegal.”

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned Iran that the UK’s response will be “considered but robust.”

8:40 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister: "UK must cease being accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US"

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to Britain's warnings against aggression in the Persian Gulf on Saturday with one of his own.

"Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold int'l maritime rules," Zarif said on Twitter, referring to the UK's seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar. "UK must cease being an accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US."

Iran's capture of the Stena Impero on Friday came just hours after authorities in Gibraltar agreed to extend the detention of an Iranian oil tanker in its custody for 30 days. That ship, the Grace 1, was seized by British authorities on July 4, accused of attempting to transport oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

Observers had expected Iran to respond to the Grace 1's seizure, and the UK raised the security level for British ships in the Persian Gulf just last week. 

Alan West, a former head of the Royal Navy, said Britain should be unsurprised by the seizing of the Stena Impero tanker, warning that the UK had “too few ships” to defend its interests in the Gulf.

“What I find extraordinary is that we knew that the Iranians would try something like this a few days ago,” he told Sky News. “I’m absolutely amazed that we haven’t implemented some sort of control of red ensign shipping within the region whereby no tanker would go in to what is clearly a dangerous zone without an escort, and I find it bizarre that we seem to have ships doing exactly that.”

6:41 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Why the Strait of Hormuz is so important

From CNN Business's Chris Isidore

The Strait of Hormuz has been the site of increasing tensions in recent weeks.

The channel, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, links the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.

If the Strait were to be closed because of the threat of ongoing attacks, it would be a massive blow to the world's economy.

Passage through the strait is the only way to move oil from Persian Gulf producers to the world's oceans, and tensions in the area often affect oil prices.

The Strait is actually even narrower than its 21-mile width suggests. The shipping channels that can handle massive supertankers are only two miles wide heading in and out of the Gulf, forcing ships to pass through Iranian and Omani territorial waters.

About 22.5 million barrels of oil a day have passed through the Strait of Hormuz on average since the start of 2018, according to Vortexa, an energy analytics firm. That's roughly 24% of daily global oil production, and nearly 30% of oil moving over the world's oceans.

To put that in context, the amount of oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz is roughly double the entire oil production of the United States -- even accounting for the recent boom in US output that resulted in it becoming the world's largest oil producer.

6:16 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

France and Germany condemn Iran's seizure of British tanker, call for de-escalation

From CNN's Martin Goillandeau and Saskya Vandoorne

France and Germany have condemned Iran's seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf, calling on the Islamic Republic to release the vessel and de-escalate tensions.

The two countries, along with the UK, make up the so-called "EU3" European powers party to the Iran nuclear deal. They have worked to preserve the landmark agreement even after the United States quit the pact and Iran surpassed limits on uranium enrichment.

In a statement, a spokesperson for France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs said it has been following developments with concern: “Such action is detrimental to the necessary de-escalation of tensions in the Gulf region. We strongly condemn it and express our full solidarity with the United Kingdom."

The German Foreign Office echoed the remarks, saying that Iran's action "exacerbates an already strained situation."

“Another regional escalation would be very dangerous. It would also undermine all ongoing efforts to find a way out of the current crisis," a Foreign Office spokesperson said in a statement Saturday.

5:49 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Indian government working to release nationals on tanker taken by Iran

From Swati Gupta in New Delhi

The India government says it is in touch with counterparts in Iran to try to secure the release of Indian crew members onboard the captured British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero.

"We are ascertaining further details on the incident. Our mission is in touch with the government of Iran to secure the early release and repatriation of Indian nationals," government spokesman Raveesh Kumar said, according to a statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

Eighteen Indian nationals are onboard the tanker that was seized Friday and is now being held in Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, Iran’s semi-official Fars News reported.

A statement from the UK operators, Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management, also said that Indian nationals are among the 23-person crew.

5:54 a.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Iran's gamble on a tanker seizure will end its credit -- even among friends

Analysis by CNN's Sam Kiley

Steadily increasing its bets in an international game of bluff, Iran has gone almost all in with a gamble that its hardliners must believe is worth the punt -- but which will certainly end their credit lines even among friends.

In seizing a foreign tanker which it accuses of "violating international regulations," Tehran has resorted to a form of piracy in international waters.

At a time when Iran might have begun to win friends and influence people in the world's corridors of power, it's showing that it really could be the force of dangerous instability that its most ardent enemies have claimed.

Iran has legitimate frustrations over the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal that was supposed to swap limiting its nuclear program for an end to economic sanctions.

And the country has been irritated by the seizure of its own oil tanker, the Grace I, by Gibraltarian and British authorities. But the UK and Iran had been trying to negotiate a way to release the tanker and keep the nuclear deal on track.

And now a British tanker is in the clutches of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps after it was seized in international waters. With no legitimate basis for such a seizure, Iran is committing an act of aggression against a sovereign vessel that, in theory, could be met with an aggressive response.

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