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Sanctioned Iranian Tanker Heading for Greece, US Fires Warning

August 21, 2019

Using diplomatic language with soft words but a hard intent, the United States told Greece it has a “strong position” about an Iranian tanker heading for the port of Kalamata, suspected of carrying $130 million of light oil believed tied to a sanctioned organization and reportedly heading for a final stop in Syria.

The tanker, Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, was due to arrive in Greece on Aug. 25 and if allowed to dock there it could put the new New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at odds with the United States.

It poses a dilemma for Greece as the US is a key ally with Turkey ramping up provocations in the East Mediterranean and Aegean,  coming a few months after a US-Greece Strategic Dialogue in Washington lauded by both sides as making relations better than ever.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the tanker would be heading to Greece or whether the destination could change and there was no immediate word from the new Mitsotakis government on whether it would be allowed to dock or seized by the US.

The Greek Foreign Ministry is closely monitoring the issue occurred with the Iranian tanker, diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.

According to the Shipping Ministry the Iranian tanker has not submitted official request to enter any Greek port.

The same sources said that the Foreign Ministry is in contact, through diplomatic channels, with the US which position on the specific issue are known and have been notified not only to Greece but to all the countries and ports of the Mediterranean.

No “formal request” had been made so far to Greek authorities by the Iranian tanker wanted by US authorities, Shipping Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis said, nor whether the US Navy, which has a base on Souda Bay on Crete, would get involved.

The Iranian tanker was freed from detention off Gibraltar and an American official who wasn’t identified said any efforts to assist the tanker could be considered as providing material support to a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, which has immigration and potential criminal consequences, reported Reuters.

The official said the tanker was assisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization, by transporting oil to Syria, which has been in the midst of a civil war for years..

The official said the US’ position was made clear to all ports in the Mediterranean about aiding the tanker, a warning shot across the bow for Greece and other countries with no reaction from Mitsotakis so far.

Speaking to broadcaster SKAI, Plakiotakis said only that the Greek Foreign and Shipping Ministries are following what’s happening with no word from US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who has repeatedly said Greece is “a pillar of stability in the region.”

QUID PRO QUO

The tanker, carrying about 2 million barrels of oil valued at tens of millions of US dollars, had been seized on July 4 by the British Royal Marines near Gibraltar on suspicion of transporting oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions, but there was no explanation why it was allowed to leave a British territory apart from officials there saying the US sanctions were tougher than Europe’s.

Gibraltar said it had been assured by Iran that the tanker wouldn’t unload its cargo in Syria with no way of stopping it beyond that promise and as Iran still hasn’t identified it’s final destination and denying that it’s Syria.

The tanker’s release comes amid a growing confrontation between Iran and the West after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago and relations worsening with the British after its former ambassador to the US, Kim Darroch, said that Trump was “inept” and “dysfunctional.”

Shortly after the tanker’s detention in early July, Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic republic. Analysts had said the Iranian ship’s release by Gibraltar might mean that the Stena Impero could go free, in an apparent seizing of ships as hostages in international diplomacy.

“There is no specific relation between these two ships,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said of the Stena Impero and the Adrian Darya 1. “We are glad that our stance about the unlawful and illegal seizure of our tanker has been proven.”

“Regarding the release of the law-breaking British tanker (Stena Impero), we have to wait for the court’s ruling,” he added. “This tanker has committed two to three nautical violations that are being investigated. We hope that these investigations will finish as soon as possible and a verdict will be issued and if the verdict orders its release, it can continue to sail its path.”

The U.S. unsealed a warrant Aug. 16 to seize the Adrian Darya 1 and its cargo, citing violations of U.S. sanctions as well as money laundering and terrorism statutes but there was no explanation why US Naval vessels in the Mediterranean aren’t pursuing it.

Mousavi warned against any order by the U.S. Justice Department to have the renamed ship seized again or face consequences.

“If such an action is taken or even if it is stated verbally and not done, it is considered a threat against the maritime security in international waters,” said Mousavi. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has given necessary warnings to the U.S. officials through official channels, especially the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, not to commit such a mistake which (could) bring them severe consequences.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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