July 20, 2019


Gulf crisis: story began with UK's seizure of Iranian-flagged ship in Gibraltar (Patrick Wintour, 20 Jul 2019, The Guardian)

[T]here were some oddities to the British decision. Few previous shipments of oil to Syria have been impounded. The Spanish claim that the British acted under the instruction of the Americans. The Trump administration is trying to freeze all Iranian oil exports as part of its policy of maximum economic sanctions designed to force the Iranians to reopen talks on the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

But Britain opposes that US policy, arguing that it is counterproductive and only likely to strengthen the hands of hardliners in Tehran.

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and co-chair of the European council on foreign relations, pinpointed the ambiguities of the British action in Gibraltar: "The legality of the UK seizure of a tanker heading for Syria with oil from Iran intrigues me. One refers to EU sanctions against Syria, but Iran is not a member of the EU. And the EU as a principle doesn't impose its sanctions on others. That's what the US does."

To the Iranian eye, the British action had nothing to do with an EU embargo, and everything to do with an desire to support the US squeeze on Iranian oil exports, the quickest route to bringing the Iranian economy to its knees. Some reports estimate that Iranian exports are down to 200,000 barrels a month.

Britain's efforts to extricate itself started to emerge at the weekend, when Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, rang his Iranian opposite number, Javad Zarif, and said the ship could be released if there was an undertaking that the ship would no longer travel to Syria.

But trust between Hunt and Zairif is low: Zarif feels let down by Hunt on a range of bilateral issues, including the case of Nazaninin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian dual national imprisoned in Tehran.

Posted by at July 20, 2019 11:59 AM