UK: Seized Iranian oil tanker could be released
Iran will continue to exhaust all avenues to export its oil despite US sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt in a telephone call on Saturday.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue its oil export under any circumstances,” said Zarif, according to an excerpt of the phone call with Hunt covered on the website of the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
Zarif also said Britain should quickly release the Grace 1 oil tanker, which was seized on July 4 by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar.
“The UK government must immediately adopt required measures to end the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker,” Zarif said.
The top Iranian diplomat said that Britain was supposed to continue to defy extraterritorial sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran as a matter of conformity with other members of European Union.
Authorities in the British-controlled territory said at the time that they had stopped the ship suspecting it was carrying oil to Syria, a destination banned under current European Union regulations.
Iran denies the tanker was taking oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
Zarif told Hunt, however, that the seizure of the Iranian supertanker had been inspired by US sanctions on Iran, which began last year when Washington unilaterally withdraw from an international agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Hunt said the call with Iran’s foreign minister had been “constructive” and Zarif had told him that Iran wanted to resolve the issue and was not seeking to escalate tensions.
Hunt reassured Zarif that “our concern was the destination, not the origin, of the oil,” the British secretary wrote on Twitter.
Hunt told reporters on Saturday that he told Zarif if the UK could receive sufficient guarantees that the tanker was not headed for Syria “then we would be able to resolve the situation following of course, due process in the Gibraltar courts.”
In recent days, Hunt has called for “cool heads” to prevail to ensure there is no “unintended escalation.”
Ali Rabiei, the Iranian government spokesman, said British authorities would release the ship because “the tanker’s destination was not what the British announced.
Tehran blames the United States for arranging the seizure of the tanker. Washington has imposed sanctions against Iran with the aim of halting Iranian oil exports.
European countries do not have sanctions against Iran, but have had them in place against Syria since 2011.
A senior Spanish official had said the interception of the tanker, which he said was carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, was carried out at the request of the United States, but later Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told parliament no other government had asked the territory to act.
Picardo said in a separate statement that he spoke with Hunt before and after the foreign secretary's conversation with Zarif and backed several of the points that were raised.
He said notably that he asked Hunt to tell Iran that Gibraltar would continue to enforce EU sanctions but it was also prepared to release the Grace 1 "if we were satisfied that we had received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria or to any entity sanctioned under the relevant EU regulations."
He added that he was "pleased to hear of Iran's constructive approach and their wish also to resolve this situation, which comes at a time of heightened international tensions."
Gibraltan police said four crew members that had been arrested, including the vessel’s captain and chief officer, had been released on bail without charge but their investigation was ongoing.
Press TV, Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to this story.