In an attempt to ease tensions with Iran, 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. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt he held a “constructive call” with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and 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.” On Sunday the leaders of Britain, France and Germany called for an end to “the escalation of tensions” in the region, which come a year after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Prime Minister Theresa May, President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel said they were “deeply troubled by the attacks we have witnessed in the Persian Gulf and beyond, and by the deterioration of the security in the region.” They called for talks to end the standoff and “signs of goodwill” from all sides.
Ali Rabiei, an Iranian government spokesman, said British authorities would release the ship because “the tanker’s destination was not what the British announced,” according to state TV. Iranian officials had earlier denied the ship was bound for Syria.
Four Indian nationals are in detention in Gibraltar in connection with an ongoing investigation as Royal Gibraltar Police arrested two more Indian sailors on Friday, last week.
The latest arrests, of the second mates aboard the vessel named Grace I, follow the arrest of the captain and chief officer of the ship on Thursday on suspicion of breaching the European Union (EU) sanctions against Syria.
“All four men are Indian nationals and they have been granted full legal assistance, telephone contact with their families and access to their consular authorities,” Royal Gibraltar Police said in a statement.
“The arrest of the two officers, who are now held in custody at the RGP headquarters in New Mole House assisting police with their inquiries, follows the detention yesterday [Thursday] of the vessel’s captain and chief officer,” the statement said.