Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Iraqi prime minister in Tehran for talks over British tanker

Adel Abdul Mahdi will discuss Iran's seizure of a British-flagged tanker with officials in Tehran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in Tehran. Reuters
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in Tehran. Reuters

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi arrived in Iran on Monday for talks in a bid to ease tensions between Tehran and the West.

“The premier is expected to meet with Iranian officials to discuss the issue of Strait of Hormuz, especially after Tehran seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero last Friday," an Iraqi official, who asked to remain anonymous, told The National.

The Iraqi official met with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and discussed ways to defuse the tensions.

Prior to his departure, Mr Abdul Mahdi received a phone call from the British Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt.

“The two sides called for security and stability in the Gulf and the Middle East and for the importance of abiding by international maritime laws and the respect for international laws,” said a statement by Mr Abdul Mahdi's office.

On July 19, Iranian naval forces seized the British-flagged Stena Impero in Omani waters. Iran claims the vessel hit a fishing boat but the UK government has dismissed the claims saying there is no evidence.

The move came nearly two weeks after the UK detained an Iranian owned tanker off the coast of Gibraltar on the grounds it was in breach of European sanctions on Syria. Iran vowed reprisals for the incident.

Iran is one of Iraq's strongest allies in the region but also has close ties with the UK and US, leaving Baghdad in a difficult position if the situation deteriorates but in an ideal position to help de-escalate the tensions.

Iraq also has an interest in ensuring smooth tanker passage through the region to keep its own oil flowing through its main export terminal in Basra.

Reactions in the Arabian Gulf have been very critical of the Iranian seizure.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al Jubeir, described it as an “attack on the freedom of navigation” and “a violation of international law".

“Iran must realise that its acts of intercepting ships, including most recently the British ship, are completely unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter.

Oman's Foreign Minister Yousef Bin Alawi is due to arrive in Tehran on Saturday to discuss “recent regional developments" after urging Iran to release the ship and exercise restraint. Muscat, like Baghdad, could be a mediator given that it has good ties around the region and has played the role in other issues.

Kuwait’s foreign ministry, while not directly mentioning Iran, said the seizure “would increase escalation and tensions and put navigation safety under direct threat".

Updated: July 23, 2019 09:28 AM