Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, on Saturday charged that Iran’s seizure had violated international law but said that Britain had followed proper legal procedures in stopping the Iranian tanker, Grace 1, near Gibraltar.
“Yesterday’s action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behavior after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria,” Mr. Hunt wrote on Twitter Saturday morning. “As I said yesterday our reaction will be considered but robust,” Mr. Hunt added. “We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping.”
He added later that he had “expressed extreme disappointment” in a phone call with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Recounting a conversation they had a week earlier, Mr. Hunt said that Mr. Zarif had said he sought de-escalation but that “they have behaved in the opposite way.”
“This has 2 be about actions not words,” Mr. Hunt said on Twitter.
Mr. Hunt is challenging Mr. Johnson in the runoff within the Conservative Party to become Britain’s next prime minister. If Mr. Hunt loses, his role overseeing the standoff with Iran might keep him in the job for the immediate term in the interest of continuity. But the results would also put a question mark over his standing and staying power, further complicating the British response.
The fate of the Iranian tanker impounded near Gibraltar is in the hands of the courts there, and an early release of the ship to mollify the Iranians would “look very weak,” said Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services Institute, an independent research center.
“I don’t think we are in a position where we have the luxury of backing down,” he added.
That, in turn, adds to the pressure on the nuclear accord. Britain has collaborated with the other European powers in seeking to preserve the deal, even joining efforts to set up an alternative trading platform that would allow Iran to evade the American sanctions.
If Britain joins the United States in re-imposing sanctions on Iran, that would all but snuff out any hope of saving the 2015 accord.
Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the British parliamentary foreign affairs committee, wrote on Twitter that “the hiatus in power” in Britain had lasted too long. “We are being tested by friends and enemies. We need leadership,” he added.