The UK would agree to set free the Iranian tanker the British marines seized in Gibraltar if Tehran reassures it that the vessel will not go to Syria, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif in a phone conversation.
Iran has repeatedly stated that the ship was never intended to sail to Syria, yet those statements apparently were not convincing enough for the British and the Gibraltar authorities, which seized the tanker last week. The Gibraltar police even arrested four officers of the ship, including its captain, precisely on suspicion of violating the EU sanctions against Syria.
The incident, which took place last week, has led to a bitter row between London and Tehran, which prompted the UK to raise the security codes for British-flagged vessels sailing near Iranian territory. London even accused Iran of attempts to “impede the passage” of one of its own tankers – something that Tehran denied.
Now, Hunt said that he had a “constructive call” with Zarif, who told his British counterpart that Iran “wants to resolve the issue and is not seeking to escalate.”
Tehran, however, painted a different picture. According to the Iranian media, Zarif told Hunt during the phone call that Iran would “continue to export oil under any circumstances.” He also maintained that the tanker was heading towards a “legal” destination in the Eastern Mediterranean and once again called for an immediate release of the tanker and its crew.
The four crew members of the Iranian oil tanker have since been granted police bail “with conditions” on Friday but the vessel still remains detained.
The Panama-flagged tanker had a 28-person crew comprised mostly of Indian nationals, but also some Pakistanis and Ukrainians, who have been interviewed as witnesses, Gibraltar officials noted earlier.
The UK’s justification for the seizure was mocked by Iran, which branded London’s move as “piracy,” while saying that London was acting on behalf of Washington. The incident indeed comes amid an ongoing bitter feud between the US and Iran.
Washington has earlier threatened to sanction any country importing Iranian oil, vowing to bring the Islamic Republic’s oil exports down to “zero.” It also recently urged its allies to form a “freedom of navigation” coalition while also apparently targeting Iran.