Mon, Jul 15, 2019 - Page 5 News List

IRAN: Seized Iranian oil tanker could be released: Hunt

AP, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

Britain would facilitate the release of a seized Iranian tanker if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel would not breach European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria, Britain’s top diplomat said late on Saturday.

The comments by British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt could help de-escalate tensions that have spiked in recent days.

In apparent retaliation for the seized tanker, Iranian paramilitary vessels tried to impede the passage of a British oil tanker through the Strait of Hormuz, only turning away after receiving “verbal warnings” from a British navy vessel accompanying the ship, the British government said.

Hunt said he held a “constructive call” with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Javad Zarif and reassured him “our concern was the destination, not the origin, of the oil.”

Hunt wrote that Zarif told him Iran is not seeking to escalate.

The UK Foreign Office elaborated in a statement, saying: “This was about the enforcement of EU Syria sanctions: action was taken because of where the oil was going — a sanctioned Syrian entity — not because it was from Iran.”

A day earlier, Iran had reiterated its demands that the British navy release the tanker, accusing London of playing a “dangerous game” and threatening retribution.

The tanker’s interception came on the heels of already high tensions in the Persian Gulf as US President Donald Trump’s administration continues its campaign of maximum pressure on Iran.

The US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East in recent weeks.

Iran recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in its 2015 nuclear deal, saying these moves could be reversed if the other parties to the agreement — Germany, France, the UK, China, Russia and the EU — come up with enough economic incentives to effectively offset the US sanctions.

The Iranian supertanker was seized with the help of British Royal Marines earlier this month off Gibraltar.

Meanwhile, the UK is accelerating the dispatch of the HMS Duncan to relieve the HMS Montrose, the frigate operating in the Persian Gulf that warned away the Iranian vessels.

The HMS Duncan, a destroyer, is larger than the HMS Montrose.

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