An Iranian tanker at the centre of a confrontation between Iran and Washington sailed for Greece after it was freed from detention off Gibraltar, with Washington calling the release unfortunate and warning against helping the vessel.
Tehran said any US move to seize the vessel again would have “heavy consequences”. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appeared to downplay the possibility of military conflict in an interview on US television, he indicated on a visit to Finland Washington was seeking “more escalation”.
The seizure of the tanker by British Royal Marines near Gibraltar in July 4 on suspicion of carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions saw a weeks-long confrontation between Tehran and the West. It also heightened tensions on international oil shipping routes through the Gulf.
“It’s unfortunate that happened,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News Channel about the ship’s release.
Pompeo said if Iran made a profit from the tanker’s oil cargo, IRGC elite forces would have “more money, more wealth, more resources to continue their terror campaign.”
A US State Department official said Washington conveyed its “strong position” to the Greek government, as well as to all ports in the Mediterranean about facilitating the tanker.
The official said assisting the ship could be considered providing support to a terrorist organisation.
Zarif said in Finland: “We are happy this ordeal has ended and I hope this will lead to less escalation.”
He said the US warrant had no legal basis and was politically motivated to “make more escalation.”
In an interview with “NBC Nightly News,” Zarif said Iran would not take military action to end its standoff with its long-time adversary.
“We will not. We have never done that, in the past 250 years. We have defended ourselves. And we have good lessons to those who invaded us,” Zarif said.
He appeared to downplay the possibility of US military action against the Islamic Republic in the interview, saying the US habit of: “No option is off the table” in its approach to Iran was a violation of the UN Charter.
WARNINGS THROUGH OFFICIAL CHANNELS
Asked whether the United States would renew its seizure request after the tanker sailed from Gibraltar, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such an action and even talk of it would endanger shipping safety in open seas.”
“Iran issued the necessary warnings through official channels, especially the Swiss embassy, to American officials not to commit such an error because it would have heavy consequences,” Mousavi said on state television.
Switzerland represents US interests in Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.
The Adrian Darya 1, reflagged to Iran after being delisted by Panama on May 29, was fully laden and carrying about two million barrels of oil, Refinitiv data showed. The cargo was valued at tens of millions of dollars.
Washington wants to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero and has re-imposed US sanctions placing heavy penalties on breaches even for non-US citizens and companies, including asset freezes and zero access to the US financial system.
Zarif said because of US sanctions, Iran could not disclose where the oil would go.
The Greek coastguard had no formal information the vessel was heading to Kalamata and was monitoring it.