British Foreign Secretary tells Iran FM he needs ‘guarantees’ on detained ship

British Secretary for State and Foreign Affairs Jeremy Hunt told Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on Saturday that the United Kingdom needs to be assured that the Grace 1 oil tanker is not destined for Syria before it can be released off the Spanish coast, according to Hunt.

“Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Constructive call. I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One and that [the] UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in [Gibraltar] courts,” Hunt tweeted.

British Royal Marines in coordination with authorities from the Government of Gibraltar have held the Panama-flagged Grace 1 at anchor off Spanish coastal waters since July 4.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told its parliament on Friday that the ship was being held because “we had reasonable grounds to believe that this vessel was taking actions in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria.”

It is believed that the Grace 1 supertanker is holding 2 million barrels of Iranian oil. The United Kingdom has tried to remain as neutral as possible despite building tensions between Iran and close-ally, the United States.

“Was told by FM Zarif that Iran wants to resolve issue and is not seeking to escalate. Also spoke to @FabianPicardo who is doing an excellent job co-ordinating [the] issue and shares UK perspective on the way forward,” Hunt added.

The Foreign Secretary also touched on Iran’s continued imprisonment of British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a mother who is said to be on another hunger strike in Islamic Republic custody.

The 40-year-old mother was first arrested in 2016 on charges of being a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation — allegations she denies.

“Also mentioned our continuing concerns about wrongful imprisonment of Nazanin ZR and other dual nationals and he said he would continue to seek to find a solution,” Hunt added.

Zarif’s office confirmed the telephone call with Hunt in a statement.

The Iranian foreign minister called on the British government to take “immediate and necessary measures to end the illegal seizure” of the tanker. He claimed the European Union “has always opposed the excessive use of US sanctions…”

Zarif’s readout made no mention of Syria. However, it “emphasized Iran’s right to export its oil and expressed concern over tensions in the region.”

Following “legal and judicial investigations” in Gibraltar, Zarif hopes that the vessel “carrying Iranian oil will be released as soon as possible.”

Zarif arrived in New York on Saturday for meetings at the United Nations amid increased tensions with neighboring Arab states supported by the United States.