Iran, UK Hold Talks to Defuse Tensions
EghtesadOnline: UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt and Iran's chief diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had a phone conversation on Saturday about the detained Iranian oil tanker, which was described as a "constructive call" by the British official.
Hunt said Britain would facilitate the release of the tanker, if Tehran gave assurances it would not go to Syria, Reuters reported.
"I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One & that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in [Gibraltar] courts," Hunt wrote on Twitter.
European countries do not have sanctions against Iran, but have had them in place against Syria since 2011, according to Financial Tribune.
The tanker was seized last week by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating European sanctions against Syria.
Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, told the territory's parliament on Friday the decision to detain the tanker, which he said was carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, had not been taken at the request of any other country.
"Also spoke to @FabianPicardo who is doing an excellent job coordinating issue and shares UK perspective on the way forward," Hunt said.
Iran strongly objected to "the illegal and unacceptable seizure" of its ship, calling on Britain to immediately release the tanker.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi dismissed Britain's claim that the ship was heading for Syria.
"The Iranian detained oil vessel was a supertanker with a capacity of two million barrels and due to this capacity was not able to pass through the Suez Canal, so set for its destination through the Strait of Gibraltar," he said, not mentioning the destination, Fars News Agency reported.
Call for Swift Release of Tanker
In the phone conversation, Zarif reiterated Iran's call on the British government to take the required steps for a swift end to the illegal detention of the tanker.
"The European Union that has always opposed the United States' extraterritorial sanctions cannot adopt the same practice itself," he was quoted as saying by the Foreign Ministry's website.
Tehran blames the US for arranging the seizure of the tanker. Washington has imposed sanctions against Iran with the aim of halting Iranian oil exports after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal under which international sanctions were lifted.
Hunt said Zarif had told him that Iran wanted to resolve the issue and was not seeking to escalate tensions.
Relations between Tehran and London further deteriorated after Britain said on Thursday that it had fended off Iranian ships that tried to block a British tanker in the Persian Gulf, although it said later that it does not want to escalate the situation with Iran.
Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps denied the claim, saying that Iranian boats were carrying out their normal duties.
"Patrols by the IRGC's Navy vessels have been underway in the Persian Gulf based on current procedures and missions assigned to them," the Public Relations Department of IRGC Navy’s Fifth Naval Zone said in a statement.
It added that in the past 24 hours, there had been no encounter with foreign ships, including British ones.