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Monday July 22nd, 2019 6:40AM

The Latest: UN chief calls for 'maximum restraint' in Gulf

By The Associated Press
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on the tensions between the United States and Iran (all times local):

10:45 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is again calling for "maximum restraint" in the Persian Gulf region and warning all parties that a new confrontation "would be a catastrophe."

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq reiterated the U.N. chief's plea to avoid any escalation when asked Thursday for Guterres' reaction to Britain saying Iranian vessels tried to block one of its oil tankers in the Gulf.

Haq said the U.N. hopes all nations "will take steps to avoid" an escalation and confrontation.

Responding to a question on whether the secretary-general supports U.S. and other calls to safeguard ships passing through the Gulf, Haq reiterated Guterres' call to avoid escalation.

"We want, of course, for everyone to allow for the freedom of movement of vessels and we're hopeful that they will abide by that," Haq said.

___

9:15 p.m.

The White House says President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone and discussed Iran's "malign actions" in the Middle East.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said Thursday the two leaders discussed cooperation "in advancing shared national security interests, including efforts to prevent Iran's malign actions in the region."

Netanyahu's office said in a statement that he "expressed his appreciation for the President's intention to increase sanctions on Iran."

The Israeli premier delivered a thinly veiled threat to Iran earlier this week shortly after Tehran announced it had started enriching uranium beyond the limit set by a 2015 agreement with world powers. Netanyahu has been a vocal critic of Iran and has vowed that he would never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

___

8:05 p.m.

A spokesman for the Royal Gibraltar Police says officers have arrested the captain and chief officer of a supertanker suspected of breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria.

Patrick Payas tells the Associated Press on Thursday that the two are in police custody while investigations continue into the movements of the Grace 1 supertanker. He says they have not been formally charged.

Payas did not have information about their nationalities. He said other crew members remain aboard the ship.

The vessel was intercepted by the British overseas territory on the southern tip of Spain July 4. A senior Spanish official said the operation was requested by the United States.

The EU and others have imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government over its continued crackdown against civilians.

___

6:45 p.m.

A Hezbollah lawmaker says U.S. sanctions targeting two of the group's members in the Lebanese parliament are spiteful and won't force a change in their ideology or views.

Ali Mokdad spoke Thursday after the weekly meeting of Iran-backed Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it is targeting two Hezbollah lawmakers and a security official suspected of using their positions to further the aims of the militant group and Tehran's "malign activities."

Although the U.S. has been cranking up the pressure on the Iran-backed group, it is the first time it has targeted sitting members of parliament.

Hezbollah has been gaining seats in Lebanon's parliament since 1992. The group and its allies won a majority in 2018 elections while Hezbollah secured three Cabinet seats, the largest number it has ever controlled.

Mokdad said targeting the head of Hezbollah parliamentary bloc Mohamad Raad and lawmaker Amin Sherri with sanctions is a "continued assault on Lebanon, its people and their choices."

___

3:30 p.m.

The European Union says it is making some progress on its controversial barter-type system to trade with Tehran and get around U.S. sanctions as part of its efforts to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive. 

EU foreign policy secretary general Helga Schmid said Thursday that beyond the 10 EU nations that are already part of the system, she could "share with you that more, also non-EU member states, will join." 

Iran has breached the deal's limitations in an attempt to get other nations to provide economic incentives to offset U.S. sanctions. The Trump administration withdrew from the landmark nuclear agreement last year.

Apart from the three EU member nations that are part of the deal, Britain, Germany and France, seven more EU member states have recently committed to take part.

___

2 p.m.

China is calling on all sides to avoid raising tensions in the Persian Gulf after Britain said three Iranian vessels sought to disrupt the passage of a British oil tanker through the Strait of Hormuz.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang says Beijing hopes the parties involved can "maintain cool and restraint" and safeguard peace and stability in the Gulf region.

Geng told reporters Thursday that China, a huge customer for oil and gas shipped through the strait, recognizes the influence events in the region can have on the stability of the global supply of resources.

China was a signatory to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and has sought to keep it in effect, despite the U.S. pulling out and re-imposing sanctions.

___

1:20 p.m.

The Kremlin is calling for restraint following a brief standoff between British and Iranian naval vessels near the Persian Gulf.

The British navy said it prevented three Iranian paramilitary vessels from impeding the passage of a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz early Thursday. The incident came a day after Iran's president warned of repercussions for the seizure of its own supertanker.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that "freedom of navigation should be ensured in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz," which he said is crucial for the global economy. Peskov says Moscow is aware of both Britain's statement and Iran's denial that it tried to impede the ship's passage.

Peskov called on "all parties" to show restraint and settle their disputes by negotiations.

Around 20% of all oil traded worldwide passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

___

9:35 a.m.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard has denied British allegations of a confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz, saying if it had received orders to seize any ships it would have executed them immediately.

The semi-official Fars news agency carried a statement from the Guard's navy early Thursday saying "there were no clashes with alien boats, especially English boats."

Britain says three Iranian vessels unsuccessfully tried to impede the passage of a British commercial vessel through the Strait of Hormuz and only turned away after receiving "verbal warnings" from a UK navy vessel.

Last week, authorities in Gibraltar intercepted an Iranian supertanker that was believed to be breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Tehran's crude oil to Syria. Tehran had warned of repercussions.

The tanker's detention comes at a particularly sensitive time as tensions between the U.S. and Iran grow over the unraveling of a 2015 nuclear deal, which President Trump withdrew from last year.

___

9:20 a.m.

Britain says three Iranian vessels unsuccessfully tried to impede the passage of a British commercial vessel through the Strait of Hormuz.

The British government said in a statement Thursday that the Iranian vessels only turned away after receiving "verbal warnings" from a UK navy vessel accompanying the commercial vessel British Heritage.

The statement says "we are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region."

It marked the latest escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf over the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which the Trump administration abandoned last year.

Authorities in Gibraltar seized an Iranian supertanker last week for allegedly trying to breach Western sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. Tehran had warned there would be repercussions.

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