Four anti-mine vessels are based out of Bahrain, which is also the base for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Britain also has two frigates — including HMS Argyll — three support ships, a survey vessel and one hunter-killer nuclear submarine in the region, the ministry said.
Last year, the U.K. created a Response Force Task Group — drawn from a pool of warships and marines — that can be deployed at short notice.
In Paris, French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said the French warship, which specializes in countering submarine attacks, has since separated from the British and American vessels, but remains on a "presence mission" in the Gulf.
France doesn't have plans to deploy more forces to the zone, said Burkhard, noting that France has a small base in the United Arab Emirates, which currently houses six Rafale warplanes and about 650 troops, including an infantry battalion.
The United States and allies already have warned they would take swift action against any Iranian moves to choke off the 30-mile (50-kilometer) wide Strait of Hormuz. The foreign minister from the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar — which has close ties with the West and Iran — called the waterway an international corridor that "belongs to the world."
"We hope the tensions over Hormuz disappear," Hamad bin Jassim told the Qatari newspaper Al-Arab.
But the primary objective of Western leaders appears to be waging an economic battle to weaken Iran's resolve.
In Israel, the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton began a three-day visit with a public agenda dominated by the stalled peace effort with Palestinians. The Western efforts to squeeze Iran, however, could overshadow the talks.
Washington and its European allies appear to strongly favor the path of tighter sanctions and diplomatic pressures on Iran. Evidence of its impact — a plummeting Iranian currency and Iran's Asian oil customers considering looking elsewhere — are used to counter calls by Israeli hard-liners and others for possible military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Ashton urged Iran to resume negotiations with world powers that broke off last year. Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak lauded the tighter European sanctions but appealed for even harsher measures.
"We think these are decisions in the right direction," he told reporters. "But it is very important to tighten them even more and add steps against the central bank and additional steps in order to force the Iranians to quickly reach a decision point of are they going to stop the military nuclear program or face the consequences of not stopping it."
In London, Australia's foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, said his country would join the EU's oil embargo though it was mostly a symbolic act since Australia imports very little Iranian oil. The 27-nation EU had been importing about 450,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran, making up 18 percent of Iran's oil exports.
Iran's Oil Ministry said the country can find new markets, though U.S. officials have been pressing Tehran's main Asian oil markets to turn away from Iran.
China — which counts on Iran as its third-biggest oil supplier — has rejected sanctions and called for negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. South Korea, which relies on Iran for up to 10 percent of its oil supplies, also has been noncommittal on sanctions.
Japan, which imports about 9 percent of its oil from Iran, has not made a decision on whether to reduce its imports. Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told parliament Tuesday that Japan hoped to cooperate with the international community, but stressed the need to keep oil prices stable while making sanctions effective.