Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

US says it will act to prevent tanker from delivering oil to Syria

Washington tells Mediterranean states that any attempt to help 'Grace 1' will be interpreted as support for terrorism

The supertanker, renamed Adrian Darya 1, seen anchored off Gibraltar. EPA
The supertanker, renamed Adrian Darya 1, seen anchored off Gibraltar. EPA

The US will take every action it can to prevent an Iranian tanker from delivering oil to Syria in contravention of US sanctions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Tuesday.

"We have made clear that anyone who touches it, anyone who supports it, anyone who allows a ship to dock is at risk of receiving sanctions from the United States," Mr Pompeo said.

"If that ship again heads to Syria we will take every action we can consistent with those sanctions to prevent that."

The Grace 1, which was given the new name Adrian Darya 1, left Gibraltar on August 18 and ship-tracking data showed the vessel was heading towards the Greek port of Kalamta.

A Greek diplomatic source told The National that Washington sent a message to Greece and other Mediterranean countries stating that any attempt to aid the Iranian-flagged vessel would be interpreted as support for terrorism.

Authorities in Greece say they received no request for the vessel to dock at Kalamata or any other port under their jurisdiction.

Grace 1, a supertanker, was seized by British commandos in July on suspicion that its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude was destined for Syria, in contravention of EU sanctions.

The US has baulked at the decision by authorities in Britain and Gibraltar to release the supertanker after they received written assurances that the Grace 1 would not travel to any destination under EU sanctions.

Mr Pompeo told Fox News this week that the decision to release the ship had been “unfortunate”.

He said that if Iran sold the oil from the Grace 1, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would gain "more money, more wealth, more resources to continue their terror campaign”.

He said Washington would continue to squeeze the Iranian oil exports and the funds they generated.

“We have managed to take almost 2.7 million barrels of crude oil off the market, denying Iran the wealth to create their terror campaign around the world, and we have managed to keep the oil markets fully supplied,” Mr Pompeo told MSNBC on Tuesday.

“I am confident we can continue to do that."

The US designated the Guard a terror entity in April 2015, putting America at odds with its allies in Europe.

Washington made an 11th hour attempt to extend the seizure of Grace 1 in Gibraltar partially on the grounds that the tanker was linked to the shadowy branch of the Iranian armed services.

Relations between Iran and the West have deteriorated since May 2018 when the US tore up the 2015 nuclear deal.

The accord lifted economic sanctions on Tehran in return for assurances that it would abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

Europe, on the other hand, has tried to salvage the nuclear deal and mitigate US sanctions on Iran.

The disagreement between Europe and the US over how to handle Iran has put nations such as Greece on a collision course with Washington.

But authorities in Greece were incredulous over the choice of Kalamata as the supertanker’s destination. The small port does not have the infrastructure required for a supertanker to dock.

Iran has continued to warn the US against seizing the vessel saying any attempts would result in “heavy consequences”.

However, Iran's Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, on Monday played down the likelihood that the crisis could lead to a military confrontation with the US.

Mr Zarif, who is on a tour of northern Europe, said Washington was the driving force behind escalations.

Updated: August 21, 2019 03:58 AM

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