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Iran warned the U.S. Monday not to make any moves on an oil tanker that’s been at the heart of a weeks-long standoff between Tehran and the West, saying any attempt to seize the vessel would meet “heavy consequences.”
"Such an action, and even the talk of it…would endanger shipping safety in open seas,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state television Monday.
"Iran has issued the necessary warnings through official channels … to American officials not to commit such an error.”
The 330-meter tanker, carrying 2.1m barrels of oil worth an estimated $139 million, set sail from the British territory of Gibraltar late Sunday, after receiving written assurances from Tehran that the vessel would not sail to Syria.
The ship — originally named the Grace 1 but renamed the Adrian Darya 1 — was seized by British Royal Marines on July 4 in response to the British government’s suspicions that it was carrying oil bound for Syria, which would have been a breach of European Union sanctions against the Assad regime.
Iran denied the ship was headed for Syria, its close ally. It responded by sending gunboats into the Persian Gulf to carry out a tit-for-tat seizure of a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, two weeks later. The seizure of the British tanker, which Tehran continues to hold, sparked a diplomatic crisis and heightened tensions along international shipping lanes through the Gulf, where the U.S. and Britain have ramped up their military presence.
After a six-week standoff, a court in Gibraltar ruled Thursday that the Iranian vessel was free to leave.
But a federal court in Washington swiftly issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker Friday, saying the tanker was breaching U.S. sanctions against Iran because it was controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Washington designates a terrorist organization. Washington wants to stop Iran’s oil exports, as part of its “maximum pressure” policy to squeeze the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.
On Sunday, the court in Gibraltar rejected that bid, too, saying it was bound by E.U. law, and not U.S. law — and in the E.U., the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is not designated a terrorist entity.
The destination for the ship’s valuable cargo is now a mystery. Shipping data Monday showed that the vessel was bound for the Greek city of Kalamata, although a spokesperson for the Greek coastguard said it had no formal information the ship was bound for its shores.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday he could not reveal where the oil was going. “Because of US sanctions we cannot be very transparent with the destination,” he said.
Meanwhile, a leading Iranian lawmaker said Monday that the release of the tanker did not mean the British vessel in Iran’s possession would automatically be returned. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee, said the crisis with Britain would not be over until the Adrian Darya 1 reached its final destination.
Mousavi said that Iranian authorities were still awaiting a court decision on alleged violations by the Stena Impero before its release could be considered.
Cover: A supertanker hosting an Iranian flag is seen on the water in the British territory of Gibraltar, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. Authorities in Gibraltar on Sunday rejected the United States' latest request not to release a seized Iranian supertanker, clearing the way for the vessel to set sail after being detained last month for allegedly attempting to breach European Union sanctions on Syria. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)