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U.K. Accuses Iranian Boats of Attempting to Block British Oil Tanker in Persian Gulf

Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

The U.K. said Thursday that Iranian boats had attempted to block a British oil tanker’s passage through the Straight of Hormuz Wednesday, before being forced to let the tanker pass by a British warship.

U.S. officials said five Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats approached the tanker, the British Heritage, and requested it stop in Iranian waters near the Straight, but backed off after a warning from the warship.

British officials echoed the U.S. account of the incident, calling Iran’s actions “contrary to international law.”

“HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away,” the U.K. Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Iran categorically denied the accusations.

“In the past 24 hours there has been no encounter with foreign ships including English ships,” read a statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s navy, according to a state-connected news agency.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif likewise complained that Britain had made the allegations “for creating tension,” and said that they had “no value.”

The confrontation comes days after British Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1, near Gibraltar, concerned that it was transporting oil to Syria in violation of sanctions.

Meanwhile, tensions have also been escalating between the U.S. and Iran, causing the Trump administration to reposition military resources in the Middle East in order to be better prepared for Iranian aggression. In June, President Trump at the last minute called off airstrikes planned as retaliation for Iran’s downing of an unmanned American drone.

Iran has moved steadily away from the requirements of the nuclear deal since May of last year when President Trump pulled out of the agreement. On Monday, the country announced it has breached the uranium-enrichment levels set by the agreement.

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