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Oil tanker seized by UK will be released soon, claims Iranian MP

Royal navy begins escorting British-flagged tankers through Strait of Hormuz

Richard Hall
Middle East correspondent
Friday 26 July 2019 19:31 BST
HMS Montrose escorts two ships in the Gulf amid Iran tensions

An Iranian oil tanker seized by royal marines near Gibraltar earlier this month will be released soon, a senior Iranian MP has claimed.

Mojtaba Zonnour, chair of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said on Thursday that the UK had seized the tanker “through bullying and piracy”.

“We have started our legal and diplomatic efforts in various dimensions to secure the release of the tanker,” he said, adding that international regulations will force the UK to release it soon.

The Grace 1 tanker was detained by authorities in Gibraltar with the help of the British royal marines on the suspicion that it was ferrying a cargo of 2.1 million barrels of crude oil to Syria, in contravention of European sanctions.

Iran denied the tanker was heading for Syria, and responded to the seizure by detaining a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil shipping route that has become a flashpoint in a deepening standoff between Tehran and the west.

Britain is currently seeking to set up a European-led maritime protection mission to ensure safe shipping in the strait, and is now sending a royal navy escort with all British-flagged ships passing through it. HMS Montrose, a British frigate now in the area, carried out the first mission under the new policy on Wednesday evening.

Mr Zonnour’s comments come a day after Iran’s president suggested that the return of the Grace 1 would result in a reciprocal move from Iran.

“If Britain steps away from the wrong actions in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran,” Mr Rouhani said.

Britain’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, has yet to comment on the suggestion, but the solution was given backing by his father.

Speaking to Press TV shortly after his son won the race to become Britain’s new PM on Wednesday, Stanley Johnson said he was looking forward to seeing Mr Johnson “building bridges with Iran” and that it would be “easy peasy” to solve the crisis.

“Of course you have this situation at the moment where we’ve got your ship which is called Stella, you’ve got our ship, which is called something else,” he said.

“Well, the best thing would be to say, look, we let your ship go, you let our ship go,” he said.

The crisis in the Strait of Hormuz has become part of a larger struggle between Iran and the US – and by proxy the UK – which was sparked when President Donald Trump abandoned a landmark nuclear deal.

Trump called the agreement “defective to its core” and has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Iran in an effort to forge a deal more favourable to the US. His administration justified the withdrawal by claiming increased pressure would further inhibit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, which could be used for a nuclear weapons programme.

The European Union, which was also a signatory of the deal, has repeatedly stated that the deal was having the desired effect, and has made efforts to salvage the agreement.

But that broader crisis shows no sign of being resolved. Trump and Iranian leaders have both publicly said talks were possible, but the prospect for dialogue appeared to recede on Wednesday when the top military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran would not negotiate with Washington under any circumstances.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that he remains open to going to Iran for talks.

Asked if he would be willing to go to Tehran, Mr Pompeo said in an interview with Bloomberg TV: “Sure. If that’s the call, I’d happily go there ... I would welcome the chance to speak directly to the Iranian people.”

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