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Diplomacy

Iran demands Britain return oil tanker siezed over EU Syria sanctions

A British Royal Navy ship patrols near supertanker Grace 1
A British Royal Navy ship patrols near supertanker Grace 1 AFP

Iran has demanded that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it detained in Gibraltar. British authorities said they suspected the tanker was carrying oil to Syria, in violation of sanctions. Iran accused Britain of acting at the bidding of the United States.

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Iran summoned Britain’s ambassador, to hear a formal protest. In that meeting, a senior Iranian foreign ministry official called Britain’s move “unacceptable", and called for the “immediate release of the oil tanker, given that it has been seized at the request of the US, based on the information currently available", said a foreign ministry statement.

The 330-metre Grace 1 tanker was stopped early Thursday by police and customs agencies in the waters off of Gibraltar, a small overseas British territory on the southern tip of Spain.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told reporters the vessel was detained at the request of the United States.

The move was welcomed by US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who tweeted: "Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions." Bolton tweeted.

EU relations

European Union sanctions against Syria have been in place since late 2011.

The detention of the tanker comes at a sensitive moment in relations with Iran, as the EU is deciding how to respond to Iran’s announcement that it planned to breach the maximum uranium enrichment level it agreed to in the 2015 nuclear deal.

This was a response to the United States’ abandoning the nuclear deal last year, and the imposition of sanctions on Iran's oil exports and financial transactions.

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