Warships heighten tension with Iran
Britain has joined the United States and France in sending a flotilla of warships through the sensitive Strait of Hormuz in a pointed message to the Iranian regime.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate, HMS Argyll, was part of the US-led carrier group to pass through the waterway, as tensions continued to escalate over Tehran's nuclear programme.
European Union foreign ministers are expected to announce an embargo on Iranian oil exports, ratcheting up the pressure on the regime to abandon work which the West believes is aimed at building a nuclear bomb.
The Iranians have threatened to close the strait - through which 35% of the world's tanker-borne oil exports pass - in retaliation.
An MoD spokesman said: "HMS Argyll and a French vessel joined a US carrier group transiting through the Strait of Hormuz, to underline the unwavering international commitment to maintaining rights of passage under international law."
The six-strong flotilla was led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with up to 90 warplanes on board.
It reportedly passed through the Strait of Hormuz without incident.
The Abraham Lincoln is the first American carrier to enter the Gulf since the end of last year. It replaced another carrier, the USS John C Stennis, in a routine ship rotation.
The departure of the USS John C Stennis had prompted the head of the Iranian armed forces, General Ataollah Salehi, to warn the Americans not to send any more carriers to the region. "We don't have any intention of repeating our warning and we warn only once," he said.
The MoD spokesman said that Britain maintained "a constant presence in the region as part of our enduring contribution to Gulf security". Royal Navy warships have been patrolling there continuously since the 1980s.