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Britain offers to help release tanker if given guarantees by Iran

Then-UK Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt and Dr. Mark Davies visit the Center for Total Health. (Ted Eytan/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Britain has offered Iran a way out of the crisis over its seized oil tanker in Gibraltar, saying it will “facilitate release” of the Grace 1 if Tehran provides guarantees the vessel will not travel on to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt made the offer to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a phone call on July 13.

“I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One & that U.K. would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in [Gibraltar] courts,” Hunt wrote on Twitter.

The EU, unlike the United States, has not placed sanctions on Iran. However, it has placed them on Iran’s ally, Syria, since 2011.

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Hunt called the discussion constructive and said Zarif had told him that Iran wanted to resolve the issue and did not want to heighten tensions

Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the two men had spoken by telephone, but it did not say if guarantees were given about the ship’s destination.

“We hope that the legal investigations in Gibraltar will soon lead to the release of the Iranian tanker,” the statement quoted Zarif as saying. Zarif is expected to be in New York on July 14 to attend a UN conference.

British Royal Marines on July 4 boarded the Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar, a British territory, and seized it over suspicions it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

Tehran warned of reciprocal measures if the tanker was not released, with a commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) threatening on July 5 to seize a British ship in retaliation.

On July 11, Britain said three Iranian vessels “attempted to impede” a British oil tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf with the Arabian Sea, but backed off when confronted by a British warship.

Iran denied trying to stop the British tanker.

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The United States in May 2018 pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers and began reimposing sanctions that had been eased in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program. Britain, France, and Germany remained a part of the nuclear deal, as have Russia and China.