UK not seeking to escalate tensions with Iran: Hunt - GulfToday

UK not seeking to escalate tensions with Iran: Hunt

Jeremy-Hunt

Jeremy Hunt attends a hustings event in Maidstone on Thursday. Reuters

Britain is not seeking to escalate the situation with Iran, foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on Friday, as tensions continue between London and Tehran over a seized Iranian tanker and the passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz.

Relations between Iran and the West have been increasingly strained after Britain seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar and London said the British Heritage, operated by oil company BP, had been approached by Iranian vessels in the strait between Iran and the Arabian peninsula.

“We are reacting to what is happening in a measured and careful way and we are being clear to Iran that we are not seeking to escalate this situation,” Jeremy Hunt told Sky News.

British territory’s chief minister said on Friday that Gibraltar took the decision to seize the Iranian tanker last week solely because the ship was in breach of European Union sanctions and not on the request of any other country.

The Grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria.

“The decisions of Her Majesty’s government of Gibraltar were taken totally independently, based on breaches of existing law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations,” Fabian Picardo told Gibraltar’s parliament.

“These important decisions about breaches of our laws were not decisions taken at the political behest or instruction of any other state or third party.”

Iran has demanded that Britain release the ship and denies that it was taking oil to Syria in violation of sanctions. The affair has led to an increase in tension in the Gulf, with Britain saying on Thursday that it fended off Iranian ships that tried to block a British tanker.

Tehran blames the United States for arranging to have its ship seized. Washington has imposed sanctions against Iran with the aim of halting all Iranian oil exports.

European countries do not have sanctions against Iran, but have had them in place against Iran’s ally Syria since 2011.

Police in Gibraltar said on Thursday they had arrested the captain and chief officer of the supertanker and seized documents and electronic devices. Picardo said it was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil.

“All relevant decisions in respect of this matter were taken only as a direct result of the government of Gibraltar having reasonable grounds to believe the vessel was acting in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria,” Picardo said.

“We will not allow Gibraltar to be used or knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the breach of EU or other international sanctions.”

He said the provenance and origin of the cargo had not been relevant to the actions, which he also said could be challenged in the courts.

Gibraltar police said on Friday they have arrested two more officers from a seized Iranian tanker suspected of breaching EU sanctions by shipping oil to Syria, a day after detaining the captain and chief officer.

All four men are Indian nationals and are being questioned in connection with an “investigation of the suspected export of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria,” the Royal Gibraltar Police said in a statement.

Britain will soon be “slapped in the face” for the capture of an Iranian supertanker last week, Iranian state TV quoted a cleric as saying on Friday, amid heightened tension between Iran and the West in the Gulf.

“Iran’s strong establishment will soon slap Britain in the face for daring to seize the Iranian oil tanker,” cleric Kazem Sedighi told worshippers during Tehran’s Friday prayer sermon, TV reported.

Oil prices rose on Friday, hovering near six-week highs, as US oil producers in the Gulf of Mexico cut more than half their output in the face of a tropical storm and as tensions continued to simmer in the Middle East.

Brent crude futures were up 29 cents, or 0.4%, at $66.81 per barrel by 0300 GMT. The international benchmark settled down 0.7% on Thursday after hitting its highest since May 30 at $67.52 a barrel.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 31 cents, or 0.5%, at $60.51 a barrel. The US benchmark marked its highest level since May 23 in the previous session at $60.94..

Agencies