Zarif: US warrant politically motivated
An Iranian tanker caught in a standoff between Tehran and the West sailed east into the Mediterranean Sea to Greece after leaving Gibraltar and Iran warned against any US move to seize the vessel after the British territory rejected a US request to detain it.
The Iran-flagged Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, set course for Kalamata, Greece, with an estimated arrival on Aug. 25, according to ship tracking service MarineTraffic. It wasn’t immediately clear why the tanker would be heading there or whether the destination could change.
Greece's Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy said it had not yet received a notification that the supertanker is headed for Kalamata and the Greek coastguard said was monitoring the matter.
The supertanker with $130 million worth of light crude oil left Gibraltar late Sunday after having been detained for a month in the British overseas territory for allegedly attempting to breach European Union sanctions on Syria which Iran denied.
The tanker’s detention ended last week but a federal court in Washington on Friday issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker.
Gibraltar said on Sunday it could not comply with that request because it was bound by EU law.
Gibraltar authorities rejected attempts by the US to impound the oil tanker again, arguing that EU regulations are less strict than US sanctions on Iran.
Gibraltar said it had been assured by Iran that the tanker wouldn’t unload its cargo in Syria.
Washington wanted to detain the tanker on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
“It’s unfortunate that that happened,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News Channel about the ship’s release.
Pompeo said that if Iran was successful in making a profit from the tanker’s oil cargo, the IRGC would have “more money, more wealth, more resources to continue their terror campaign.” Iran categorically rejects any involvement in assisting terrorism. Iran is a chief victim of terrorism with terrorist groups being supported by the United States.
A US State Department official said Washington had conveyed its “strong position” to the Greek government, as well as to all ports in the Mediterranean about facilitating the tanker.
The official said assisting the ship could be considered providing support to a terrorist organization.
No legal basis
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appeared to downplay the possibility of military conflict with Washington in an interview on US television, he also indicated on a visit to Finland that Washington was seeking “more escalation”.
Zarif said in Finland: “We are happy this ordeal has ended and I hope this will lead to less escalation.”
He also said the US warrant had no legal basis and was politically motivated to “make more escalation.”
But in an interview with “NBC Nightly News,” Zarif said Iran would not take military action to end its standoff with its longtime adversary.
“We will not. We have never done that, in the past 250 years. We have defended ourselves. And we have taught good lessons to those who invaded us,” Zarif said.
He also said the US habit of saying: “No option is off the table” in its approach to Iran was a violation of the UN Charter.
US President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in May last year, while the European Union is still part of the accord, which allows Tehran to sell its oil.
Washington wants to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero and has reimposed US sanctions that place heavy penalties on any breaches even for non-US citizens and companies, including asset freezes and being cut off from the US financial system.
While EU regulations still allow for companies and citizens in the bloc to trade with Iran, falling foul of US sanctions has meant most banks are unwilling to process even authorized transactions such as for food and medicine, finance sources say.
It is likely to be the first major foreign policy test for Greece’s new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, since he took office in July if the vessel enters Greek territorial waters.
Zarif said that because of US sanctions, Iran could not disclose where the oil would go.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said a US attempt to seize the oil tanker would have “heavy consequences” and a senior Iranian lawmaker said the crisis with Britain would only end after the vessel reached its destination.
Asked whether the United States could renew its seizure request after the tanker sailed from Gibraltar, Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said: “Such an action ... would endanger shipping safety in open seas. We have issued a warning through official channels, especially the Swiss embassy.”
“Iran has issued the necessary warnings through official channels, especially the Swiss embassy, to American officials not to commit such an error because it would have heavy consequences,” Mousavi said.
Switzerland represents US interests in Iran which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.
Speaking at a news conference, he dismissed the notion of any link between the seizure of the Iranian tanker off Gibraltar and the British-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf.
"There is no connection whatsoever between these two vessels," said Mousavi.
"There have been two or three maritime violations made by that ship," he said, referring to the Stena Impero held off Iran's Bandar Abbas.
"The court is looking into it. We hope the (investigation) is completed as soon as possible and the verdict is issued."
The spokesman said the tanker's release was a blow to US "unilateralism".
"The Americans have not been very successful with their unilateral sanctions that have no legal basis.
"They should come to their senses that bullying and unilateralism cannot get anywhere in the world today."
Mousavi urged other countries not to accept sanctions the US has imposed on Iran "because they're not legitimate and have no legal basis".
Responsibility is UK’s
Separately, a senior Iranian lawmaker said a crisis in Iran’s ties with Britain would not be over until the tanker reached its destination.
The IRGC on July 19 seized the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for marine violations, two weeks after the Grace 1 was commandeered.
“Until the Iranian oil tanker arrives at its destination the British must help end the crisis,” said Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.
“The crisis with Britain is not over. Britain has the primary responsibility for ending the oil tanker crisis,” Falahatpisheh said.
Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to this report.