Iran hints at possible tanker swap

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hinted that the current crisis with the UK could be resolved if it frees the Grace 1 tanker and in return Iran would release the UK tanker it seized last Friday.

Iran seized the British flagged tanker, Stena Impero, last Friday in what was seen as a tit-for-tat action following the seizure of an Iranian tanker by British marines off the Straits of Gibraltar because it was carrying Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

During the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday, Rouhani said: “We do not seek the continuation of tension with some European countries. Should they be committed to international frameworks and give up their wrong actions, including what they did in Gibraltar, they will receive a proportional response from Iran. If the other party takes the right and balanced action, and a cease-fire in the economic war is announced, there will be an opportunity to talk to each other and to come to a conclusion.”

The UK government has said that the fate of the Grace 1 is now subject to a legal process in Gibraltar.

Rouhani also alluded to indirect talks about a potential easing of tensions between Iran and the United States. He said: “Of course, there are countries as intermediaries, and there are correspondences and calls underway, and everyone should know that we will never miss the opportunity for negotiation.” However, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has referred to negotiations with the United States as a trap or even “poison.”

Rouhani said that Iran would take a “third step” away from the Iran nuclear deal unless progress was made in its demands for greater European efforts to lift the economic pressure placed on Tehran by the US. Earlier this week, former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke of a plan for a European led maritime security force, noting, “It will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran.” France and Germany strongly supported diplomatic action against Iran but have not yet made any firm commitments to join a maritime force in the Gulf.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his new Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will address the tanker crisis with Iran as one of their first acts in office. It is not clear if they will continue with the European maritime force idea or lean closer to joint naval patrols with the US.