UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran, November 19, 2018 (AFP)
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that an Iranian supertanker can be released, if Tehran guarantees the vessel will not deliver oil to Syria’s sanctioned Assad regime.
On July 4, UK Marines and Gibraltarian police boarded and impounded the Grace 1, with 2.1 million barrels of oil, in Gibraltar’s waters at the mouth of the Mediterranean.
UK authorities said the supertanker, which took the long route from Iran around the southern tip of Africa, was en route to the Syrian port of Baniyas in the eastern Mediterranean.
The European Union has sanctioned all oil deliveries to Syria following the Assad regime’s mass killing and torture in its attempt to suppress a rising from March 2011.
Hunt spoke on Saturday by phone with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who denies the Grace 1 was heading for Syria.
The Foreign Secretary said the call was constructive, with Zarif saying Iran wanted to resolve the issue and was not seeking to escalate tensions.
1/2 Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Constructive call. 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 Gib courts
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) July 13, 2019
The Iranian Foreign Ministry gave a different version, with Zarif sternly telling Hunt, “The UK government must immediately adopt required measures to end the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker.”
Last week Iran’s Revolutionary Guards approached a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and tried to order it into Iranian waters, according to UK and US officials. The Royal Navy’s HMS Melrose intervened to prevent any interception.
The Revolutionary Guards denied the episode. However, they declared that the UK and US would “regret” their actions if the Iranian supertanker was not released.
Hunt also tweeted that he mentioned the UK’s “continuing concerns” about Anglo-Iranian political prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, detained in Tehran since April 2016, and other dual nationals imprisoned in Iran.
The Foreign Secretary reported that Zarif said he will continue to seek to find a solution.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry did not mention Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been sentenced to five years for espionage.
The conviction was not supported by a public trial with presentation of evidence against the charity worker, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Iranian State media later tried to claim that payslips for Zaghari-Ratcliffe, when she worked for BBC Media Action, proved her guilt.
Early this year Zaghari Ratcliffe went on hunger strike to get access to essential medical treatment. Last month she renewed the strike for two weeks, with her husband Richard also refusing food in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London, to draw attention to her case.