- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

LONDON Britain could send extra military assets to the Strait of Hormuz to deter any attempt by Iran to block Persian Gulf oil tanker traffic, the country’s defense secretary said Tuesday, as Tehran insisted that a European Union ban on the purchase of its oil would have little sting.

Two British and French warships and the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln entered the Gulf on Sunday to show Iran that they would not tolerate any interference with global shipping, Philip Hammond told reporters.

Iranian leaders repeated long-standing threats to close off the strait, which handles a fifth of the world’s oil, after the EU imposed the embargo Monday as part of sanctions to pressure Tehran into resuming talks on the country’s nuclear program.

Iran summoned the Danish ambassador to Tehran on Tuesday over the EU’s oil embargo. Denmark is currently the head of the rotating EU presidency.

“Elements within the European Union, by pursuing the policies of the U.S. and adopting a hostile approach, are seeking to create tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Ali Asghar Khaji, a senior Foreign Ministry official, as saying. He called the EU decision “irrational.”

Other Iranian officials argued that the sanctions would not work or could even benefit Iran.

“The oil embargo will lead to higher prices. Europe will be the loser and Iran will earn more because of high prices,” Iranian Oil Ministry spokesman Alireza Nikzad Rahbar told state TV.

During talks in London on Tuesday, Australia said it also would join the embargo - though it acknowledged that its oil imports from Iran are negligible.

The three warships - which included Britain’s HMS Argyll frigate and France’s frigate La Motte Picquet - that entered the Gulf on Sunday had sent “a clear signal about the resolve of the international community to defend the right of free passage through international waters,” Mr. Hammond said.

The British Defense Ministry declined to offer specific details on what assets and personnel are in the Persian Gulf, but said it had about 1,500 navy personnel in the region east of Suez, which includes the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.

Four anti-mine vessels are based out of Bahrain. Britain also has two frigates - including the HMS Argyll - three support ships, a survey vessel and one hunter-killer nuclear submarine in the region, the ministry said.

In Paris, French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said the French warship, which specializes in countering submarine attacks, has since separated from the British and U.S. vessels, but remains on a “presence mission” in the Persian Gulf.

France doesn’t have plans to deploy more forces to the zone, said Col. Burkhard, noting that it has a small base in the United Arab Emirates that houses six Rafale warplanes and about 650 troops, including an infantry battalion.

The United States and allies have warned that they would take swift action against any Iranian moves to choke off the 30-mile-wide strait.

Though Mr. Hammond did not specify what reinforcements Britain could send, the United Kingdom last year created a Response Force Task Group - a flexible force drawn from a pool of warships, support vessels, helicopters, marines and a submarine - that can be deployed on short notice.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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