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Wed 31 Jul 2019 07:20 PM

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Bahrain hosts maritime security summit amid Iran tensions

Gulf kingdom, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, says meeting plans to discuss the 'current regional situation and to strengthen cooperation'

Bahrain hosts maritime security summit amid Iran tensions

Bahrain hosted a conference on Gulf maritime security on Wednesday, after multiple attacks on shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz sent tensions soaring between Iran and the US.

The tiny Gulf monarchy, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, 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".

The US has joined Gulf allies in accusing Iran of being behind several mysterious attacks on tankers in recent months, which Iran denies.

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.

Manama did not specify who attended Wednesday's conference, but the Guardian reported a day earlier that the UK had called for a meeting in Bahrain with other European countries and the US.

Bahrain said earlier this month that it and the US would co-host a conference on "maritime and air navigation security", set for October.

Long-simmering tensions have spiked between Tehran and Washington since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year and reimposed biting sanctions on the Islamic republic.

Britain last week ordered its navy to escort UK-flagged ships in the Strait of Hormuz in response to Iranian soldiers seizing its tanker in the flashpoint entrance to the Gulf.

The US has proposed setting up a maritime surveillance mission in the area, but Germany said Wednesday it would be "reluctant" to take part, proposing a European mission instead.

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"

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