Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani appears to have suggested that if the United Kingdom releases an Iranian tanker it apprehended off the coast of Gibraltar earlier this month, then his country will return a British-flagged vessel it seized last week.
“If Britain steps away from the wrong actions in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran,” Rouhani said on Wednesday during a weekly cabinet meeting.
The Grace-1 supertanker was seized off the British overseas territory on Spain’s southern coast on July 4 on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria, in breach of European Union sanctions. Some two weeks later, Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, claiming that it had collided with a fishing boat and violated international law.
London and Tehran have denied the accusations in turn and descended into a feud over the ships’ seizures amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most significant oil artery.
“It was the first time that he [Rouhani] seemed to link the seizure of a ship by the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) less than a week ago to the seizing in Gibraltar of the Iranian oil tanker,” said Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from Tehran.
“Does this perhaps suggest that releasing their vessel will prompt Iran to release the British-flagged vessel? Iran continues to say that its seizure of the vessel was legal, that it had wandered into Iran’s territorial waters, so perhaps not – but it certainly is a tip of the hat in that direction.”
Also on Wednesday, an Iranian official reported that the UK sent a mediator to Iran to discuss the freeing of the Stena Impero.
Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, the head of the Supreme Leader’s office, provided no details about the British mediator’s trip but made an ironic reference to Britain’s involvement during colonial times in Iranian affairs.
“A country that at one time appointed ministers and lawyers in Iran has reached a point where they send a mediator and plead for their ship to be freed,” Mohammadi Golpayegani said, according to the semi-official Tasnim news site.
However, a British diplomatic source denied that the UK had sent any such representatives.
“We are not aware of any representatives being sent as mediators to Iran,” the source was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.