US says tanker spotted in Syria shows Iran deceitful

In this file photo taken on August 18, 2019 an Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2019

US says tanker spotted in Syria shows Iran deceitful

  • US says has evidence Iranian ship transferred its oil to Syrian regime
  • An Iranian vessel was held for six weeks by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar

WASHINGTON, LONDON: Gibraltar acted in good faith when it released the Adrian Darya 1 tanker and Iran broke assurances it had given not to sell the crude oil to Syria, the British territory’s maritime minister said on Friday.

British commandos on July 4 seized the supertanker, formerly named the Grace 1, on suspicion that it was en route to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Gibraltar released it on Aug. 15 after getting written Iranian assurances that it would not discharge its cargo of around 2 million barrels of oil in Syria.

“We released the vessel in good faith based on assurances given by a sovereign nation,” said Gilbert Licudi, minister with responsibility for port and maritime affairs.

“The information we have is that despite the assurances that were given to the Gibraltar government that the vessel would not unload in Syria it appears that is what has actually happened,” he told Reuters on a visit to London.

Iran’s envoy to London said on Wednesday — after being summoned by Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab — that the Adrian Darya 1’s cargo was sold at sea to a private company, denying Tehran had broken assurances it had given over the vessel, adding that the EU’s Syria sanctions did not apply to Tehran.

Licudi said he did not know “for a fact” whether the ship had discharged the cargo at sea.

“It does not necessarily have to be in port, it can be ship-to-ship transfers in different amounts of cargoes and then it is delivered,” he said.

The US State Department said on Thursday Washington had evidence that the tanker had transferred its oil to the Syrian regime.

The tanker’s last reported position off Syria’s coast was on Sept. 2 before its public tracking transponder went dark, Refinitiv data showed.

“I think the importance here to our friends around the world in the international community is to note that once again you have been lied to and misled by the Iranian regime,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters.

Gibraltar refused a US request to seize the tanker in August, saying it was unable to comply because it was bound by EU law. 

“There was certainly no pressure from the US or from anybody else or even the UK. This was a decision that had to be taken because of our international responsibilities and our international obligations.”

“The Iranian regime broke its word and appears intent on fueling the Assad regime’s brutality against the Syrian people, who continue to face widespread violence, death and destruction,” Ortagus said.

President Donald Trump’s administration has slapped punishing sanctions on Iran after walking away from a multinational accord on ending its nuclear program.

But Trump has recently said he is open to meeting Iran’s leadership after France proposed an initiative aimed at lowering tensions.

Iran has rejected the authority of Gibraltar authorities to seize the ship, calling it an act of piracy.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Sunday that the Adrian Darya had “reached its destination and the oil has been sold,” without providing further details.

The United States offered millions of dollars to the ship’s Indian captain in an unsuccessful bid to encourage him to divert it to a US-friendly port where the vessel could be seized.

Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces

Updated 14 min 27 sec ago

Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces

  • Nuclear watchdog’s top inspector’s visit set
  • Internet only restored in 10% of the country

JEDDAH: US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday expressed support for anti-government protesters in Iran. 

Trump said Iran is so “unstable” that the government has shut down the Internet so Iranians cannot disclose what he says is the “tremendous violence” occurring in the country.

Trump tweeted Thursday that the Iranian government wants “ZERO transparency” and believes that by shutting down the Internet the rest of the world will not find out about the “death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!”

Pence, also in a tweet, he said: “As Iranians take to the streets … the Ayatollahs in Tehran continue to use violence and imprisonment to oppress their people. The United States’ message is clear: The American people stand with the people of Iran.”

More than 100 protesters have been killed by security forces, according to Amnesty International. The EU, France, Germany and human-rights organizations have condemned the use of lethal force against the protesters.

The unrest erupted on Nov. 15 after the government announced gasoline price hikes of at least 50 percent. Protests began in several provincial areas before spreading to about 100 cities and towns across the country. They soon turned political, with protesters demanding top officials step down.

On Thursday, the regime began restoring Internet access in Tehran and a number of provinces, following a nationwide shutdown designed to stifle the unrest.

The blockage made it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media to generate support, and to obtain reliable reports on the extent of the unrest.

Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said the restoration of connectivity in Iran was only partial, covering about 10 percent of the country.

Meanwhile, the UN nuclear watchdog’s top inspector will travel to Tehran next week to demand an explanation of the origin of uranium traces found at an undeclared site, the agency’s acting chief said on Thursday.

It was first reported in September that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had found uranium traces at the site. Tehran said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.

Two weeks ago, the IAEA confirmed that environmental samples taken at an unspecified site had shown traces of uranium that was processed but not enriched.

“We have continued our interactions with Iran since then, but have not received any additional information and the matter remains unresolved,” acting IAEA Director General Cornel Feruta told a quarterly meeting of his agency’s 35-nation board of governors in Vienna.

Feruta told Iran in September that “time is of the essence” in clearing up the origin of the traces. 

The IAEA has not been convinced by Tehran’s explanations.

“A meeting between the agency and Iran is scheduled next week in Tehran to discuss it further,” Feruta said. “It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly.”