Britain’s top diplomat said late Saturday that Britain will 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.
The comments by 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. But they turned away after receiving “verbal warnings” from a British navy vessel accompanying the ship.
Hunt said he held a “constructive call” with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif. The British Foreign Minister 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 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. It accused London of playing a “dangerous game” and threatened retribution.
The tanker’s interception came on the heels of already high tensions in the Persian Gulf as the Trump administration continues its campaign of maximum pressure on Iran. But also Syria if one understands the British motives for intercepting the Iranian oil tanker.
BAD IRAN DEAL
President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of a bad Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers a year ago. He has since re-imposed tough sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent its currency plummeting.
The U.S. has also sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East in recent weeks.
In response, Iran recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in its 2015 nuclear deal. Iran may reverse its course if Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union come up with enough economic incentives to effectively offset the U.S. sanctions.
The British Royal Marines seized the Iranian supertanker of Gibraltar, which was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil. Gibraltar is a British overseas territory near the southern coast of Spain.
NO IRANIAN OIL TO SYRIA
Hunt told reporters on Saturday that he told Zarif if the U.K. could receive sufficient guarantees that that tanker was not headed for Syria “then we would be able to resolve the situation following of course, due process in the Gibraltar courts.”
In recent days, Hunt has called for “cool heads” to prevail to ensure there is no “unintended escalation.”
The U.K., meanwhile, is accelerating the dispatch of the HMS Duncan to relieve the HMS Montrose. The HMS Duncan, a destroyer, is larger than the HMS Montrose, which helps patrol better the Strait of Hormuz.
Police in Gibraltar said Friday they arrested four crewmen of the Iranian ship, including its captain and chief officer. All are Indian nationals.
A senior Spanish official had said the interception was carried out at the request of the United States. Later Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told parliament no other government had asked the territory to act.
AP contributed to this article.