The US stepped up diplomatic pressure on Germany to send warships to the Persian Gulf on Tuesday as the Western allies remained deeply divided over how to respond to the Iranian threat to oil tankers. Germany has so far been reluctant to contribute to any naval mission in the Middle East and the US embassy took the unusual step of publicly challenging Berlin to make a commitment. “Members of the German government have been clear that freedom of navigation should be protected,” the US embassy said in a statement. “Our question is, protected by whom?” The US statement said that both the UK and France had committed to sending warships to “secure the Strait of Hormuz and combat Iranian aggression”. In reality, there is still no agreement on any joint mission in the Strait of Hormuz. France has refused to join any US mission out of concern it would associate Paris with Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” against Iran. Britain is caught in the middle, calling for a European-led initiative but saying it will need American military support to succeed. Caricatures at Iran’s “Pirates of the Queen” exhibit mocks the UK over its seized tanker Credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images Germany appeared unmoved by the US pressure and refused to commit to sending naval assets. “The German government has taken note of this, but not promised to make any contribution,” a German official said. Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised Germany for not spending more on defence and German politicians have called for the expulsion of his ambassador in Berlin for appearing to interfere in the country’s domestic politics. Overseas military deployments are a sensitive subject in Germany, where the post-war constitution places constraints on using the armed forces for anything other than strictly defensive operations. Meanwhile, hardliners in Iran continued to revel in the seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker with the launch of a cartoon exhibition mocking the UK’s inability to recover its ship. The “Pirates of the Queen” exhibit features more than a dozen cartoons. Some mock the Queen personally while others portray the UK as a fox – a reference to the Persian term “the Old Fox”, which is often used by Iranians to to describe Britain. A cultural centre affiliated to the IRGC has launched a cartoon expo in Tehran where artists display their work celebrating Iran’s seizure of the British-flagged tanker StenaImpero. The UK is referred to as the “Old Fox” by the Islamic Republic to signify “British cunning”. pic.twitter.com/cOEYtQWdvn— Kian Sharifi (@KianSharifi) July 29, 2019 The captain of an Iranian tanker seized in Gibraltar accused Britain of using unnecessary “brute force” when Royal Marines took the ship. He said the marines pointed guns at his unarmed crew and forced them to kneel on the deck. “They just pointed the gun and they started shouting look forward, look forward,” the captain, an Indian national who spoke anonymously to the BBC. “I was totally shocked I didn’t know what to feel because they didn’t give me a chance to talk.” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, appealed to Mr Trump to ignore the advice of his hawkish advisers and seek a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Iran. “Diplomacy = prudence; never weakness,” Mr Zarif said on Twitter. Mr Trump has occasionally expressed interest in negotiations with Iran and reportedly tapped a Republican senator to be his envoy. But he has also said he does not believe Iran is ready to negotiate and has shown no sign he is prepared to ease crippling US sanctions on Iran.
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