Bahrain hosted a conference on Gulf maritime security on Wednesday, July 31 after multiple attacks on shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz sent tensions soaring between Iran and the United States.
The tiny Gulf monarchy, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and a U.K. Royal Navy support facility, said the meeting was held “to discuss the current regional situation and to strengthen cooperation.”
In a statement, it slammed “the repeated attacks and unacceptable practices of Iran and the terrorist groups linked to it.”
Manama did not specify who attended Wednesday’s conference, but the Guardian reported a day earlier that the United Kingdom had called for a meeting in Bahrain with other European countries and the U.S.
The U.S. and U.K. have joined Gulf allies in accusing Iran of being behind several mysterious attacks on tankers in recent months, which Iran denies.
UAE-based The National reported on Wednesday that delegates from France “and other European states” were also expected to attend the meeting.
Tensions escalated on July 19 when Iran impounded a British-flagged tanker with its 23 crew aboard as it passed through the Strait – the world’s busiest oil shipping lane.
Iranian authorities said the ship had collided with a fishing vessel then failed to respond to distress calls, as well as turning off its transponder.
Bahrain said earlier this month that it and the U.S. would co-host a conference on “maritime and air navigation security,” set for October.
The U.K. last week ordered its navy to escort British-flagged ships in the Strait of Hormuz in response to Iranian soldiers seizing its tanker in the flashpoint entrance to the Gulf.
On Monday, Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan arrived to help accompany vessels through the Strait of Hormuz. The destroyer will replace HMS Montrose, which is due to come off-task for pre-planned maintenance and crew change over.
The Montrose is stationed in Bahrain until 2022 to spare other British warships the trip to and from the United Kingdom and ensure a permanent presence in the region.
The U.S. has proposed setting up a maritime surveillance mission in the area, but Germany said Wednesday it would be “reluctant” to take part, putting its support behind a European mission instead.
Then-U.K. foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said last week that the U.K. government was prepared to put together “a European-led mission” in the Gulf but would not take part in the American maximum pressure campaign on Iran.
Despite the tensions, Iran on Tuesday received a coastguard delegation from the United Arab Emirates, aimed at reviving maritime security talks cut off in 2013, state media reported.
The UAE has sided with Iran’s arch-rival, regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, over several issues – including joining a military coalition battling Iran-linked rebels in Yemen.
UAE foreign affairs official Salem Al-Zaabi on Wednesday expressed “satisfaction” after the meeting.
UAE state media said the meeting had addressed “routine maritime issues, including maritime connections, illegal entries and smuggling, fishermen and shared borders.”
“The international initiative on the security of the Strait of Hormuz is an explicit signal of the international community towards ensuring the safety of navigation and energy of our region to the world,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
With reporting from AFP