Produced by Tom Hannen, Edited by Jamie Han, Footage:Reuters
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If and when Boris Johnson becomes prime minister later this week, he'll be facing an immediate diplomatic crisis that could, if he's unlucky, spiral into a military conflict. The problem is with Iran. The Tehran government has seized a British flag tanker that was going through the Strait of Hormuz. As far as the Iranians are concerned, this was in retaliation for the British seizure of an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar that the British say was poised to violate sanctions against Syria.
At any time this week be a difficult diplomatic standoff. But it is particularly tricky and dangerous at the moment for a couple of reasons. The first is that this is a new British government with a huge amount on its plate, in particular, Brexit. But the second is that the Iran-Britain standoff is part of a broader conflict between the West and Iran that was already looking pretty dangerous. In fact, only last month the United States government came very close to bombing Iran in response for the Iranian downing of an American drone.
That strike was, as far as we know, only called off in the very last minutes after President Trump developed qualms about the number of Iranians that might be killed. However, this escalation between Britain and Iran now plays into that wider rise in tensions between the United States and the Iranians that has its origins in the Trump administration's contested decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Accord. The Trump administration had decided that that deal, negotiated by its predecessor, the Obama administration, was too weak.
And it withdrew from the accord and has reimposed very powerful economic sanctions on Iran, which was already causing economic and political anguish in Iran, and causing the Iranians to respond with a series of small scale provocations. However, the complication for Britain is that the British, along with the French and Germans, have never accepted the US decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Accord. However, now that the tank has been seized, Mr Johnson or any incoming government faces a tricky decision.
Does it ramp up economic sanctions, and therefore essentially come much closer to aligning itself to the hard-line policies of Washington, or does it try to stick with its diplomatic path with Iran, but risk looking weak and getting stuck in a standoff that can't be resolved? These are very difficult decisions which potentially have implications that could stretch all the way into military action. But they're going to be landing on Boris Johnson's desk more or less as soon as he enters 10 Downing Street.