It took a bit longer for Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters to issue a statement condemning the seizure of two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.
The statement, issued yesterday, said:
“The seizure of commercial ships in this important transit lane is an inexcusable violation of international law, including the freedom of navigation.”
“Iran’s recent actions risk escalating a dangerous situation in the Gulf region. We call on Iran to release the detained vessels and to engage with the international community in steps that help reduce tensions and the prospect of conflict,” said Mr Peters.
“Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have communicated New Zealand’s concerns to the Iranian Embassy in Wellington.”
The New York Times reported a week ago that Iran had seized “at least one British oil tanker” in the vital Persian Gulf waterway. This was described as a sharp escalation of tensions with the West that revived fears of a military clash, “even as voices on both sides appeared to be seeking room for negotiations”.
The impoundment of the tanker by Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps naval patrols came a day after the United States said it had downed an Iranian drone menacing an American warship in the region.
But Iran’s standoff with Britain, in particular, carries its own complications. Britain occupies a pivotal place in a bloc of European states that have tried to broker some resolution to a broader conflict between Tehran and Washington over the fate of a 2015 deal with the world powers designed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Who provoked whom is a good question:
Tensions between Britain and Iran had spiked earlier this month when the British military impounded an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar on suspicion of having violated a European Union embargo on the sale of oil to Syria. Iran called the seizure “piracy,” accused Britain of acting on a pretext at the behest of Washington and threatened to capture a British ship in retaliation.
And let’s not forget Donald Trump last year withdrew the US from the international nuclear accord with Iran and has imposed the harshest sanctions in history on that country through its “maximum pressure” campaign.
Tehran regards this as “economic warfare.”
According to Forbes:
Trump has reduced Iran’s crude exports – the OPEC member’s lifeblood – to under 250,000 barrels a day. That is down from more than 2 million barrels a day before Trump withdrew the U.S. from the international nuclear accord in May 2018.
These are not the Obama-era sanctions, where Tehran was still allowed to export about 1 million barrels a day. Trump has vowed to reduce Iran’s exports to zero, and he’s having far greater success doing so than many thought possible. Even China and India, two of Iran’s top customers, stopped importing Iranian oil entirely since May, when Trump revoked waivers. It’s clear that even China and India, like their European counterparts, don’t want to risk losing access to America’s financial markets.
Among Tehran’s responses to the increased economic pressure, it has started to violate the nuclear deal, which only just remains alive, with European signatories.
A day before the capture of the British tanker, the United States said it had brought down an Iranian drone that had come too close to an American amphibious assault ship.
The UK government this week announced it will provide a Royal Navy escort for British-flagged ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
“The Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, either individually or in groups, should sufficient notice be given of their passage,” a government spokesman said.
“Freedom of navigation is crucial for the global trading system and world economy, and we will do all we can to defend it,” he added.
After the HMS Montrose was dispatched while the Stena Impero was in Omani waters last week, only to arrive after the tanker had entered Iranian territorial waters, a former head of the Royal Navy said it was “extraordinary” that the Stena was travelling through the tense region without an escort.