Zarif: US 'piracy' attempt failed
Iranian officials on Friday denied that any assurances were given to Gibraltar to release a supertanker now sailing on into the Mediterranean, calling it a "victory" for the Islamic Republic.
Gibraltar's Supreme Court ordered the tanker released on Thursday after the British overseas territory said it had received written assurances from Iran that the Grace 1 would not head to any country subject to European Union sanctions.
The ship had been detained on suspicion that its cargo was destined for the Banias oil refinery in Syria in breach of an EU embargo which Iran has rejected. But Iran denied it had provided any assurances to secure the ship's release, saying Gibraltar was only seeking to "save face."
Seeking to “de-escalate” the matter, Gibraltar’s First Minister Fabian Picardo met with Iranian officials in London. He later agreed to release the ship after saying he received assurances that the cargo would not go to Syria.
"Iran has given no assurances over the Grace 1 not going to Syria to secure its release," Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said Friday.
"The tanker's destination was not Syria ... and even if it was, it did not concern anyone else."
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei hailed a victory for Iran that he said had been achieved without making any concessions.
"Our illegally seized oil tanker is set free. This victory without giving any collateral is the result of #powerful diplomacy and strong will to fight for a nation's rights," Rabiei said in a tweet.
The ship's seizure, with the help of British Royal Marines, had triggered a sharp deterioration in relations between Tehran and London and what Britain saw as the tit-for-tat detention of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero by Iran.
Britain's Foreign Office urged Iran to abide by the assurances it says Iran provided to the government of Gibraltar.
In a statement hours after a Gibraltar court released the Grace 1, UK authorities insisted they would not allow Iran or anyone else to bypass European Union sanctions.
But the UK also insisted that there should be "no comparison or linkage" between the enforcement of sanctions and Iran's seizure of the Stena Impero.
Tanker to fly Iran flag
The Grace 1 will be renamed and switch to the Iranian flag for its onward journey into the Mediterranean, senior Iranian shipping official Jalil Eslami said.
"At the owner's request, the Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Islamic Republic of Iran's flag and renamed as Adrian Darya for the voyage," Eslami, the deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, told Iranian television.
The ship was originally Panama-flagged and is carrying more than two million barrels of Iranian oil, he added.
Hours before the court's ruling, the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has waged a campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran, launched a last-minute legal move demanding that the Gibraltar authorities extend the vessel's detention.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the US attempt at "piracy" had failed, saying it showed the Trump administration's "contempt for the law."
"Having failed to accomplish its objectives through its #EconomicTerrorism – including depriving cancer patients of medicine – the US attempted to abuse the legal system to steal our property on the high seas," Zarif tweeted.
"This piracy attempt is indicative of Trump admin's contempt for the law."
Iran's ambassador to London called the verdict a "humiliating defeat" for the United States, his country's archenemy.
"Minutes ago... the tanker carrying Iranian oil was freed from illegal detention," Hamid Baeidinejad wrote on his Twitter account.
"The US with its last minute cowardly attempts sought to stop the tanker leaving detention which faced a humiliating defeat," he added.
The US State Department said it will revoke American visas for crew members on the Grace 1.
The department said in a statement it intends to fully enforce all US sanctions related to Iranian oil exports despite the decision by Gibraltar to allow the ship to leave.
Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran last year and reimposed unilateral sanctions.
Following the Grace 1 release, Britain renewed its demand that Iran release the British-flagged tanker it seized in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19.
Tehran charged that the Stena Impero was in violation of "international maritime rules."
AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story.