'Difficult' to prove Iran sold oil to Syria
The leader of Gibraltar has attempted to de-escalate the crisis with Iran over the fate of a supertanker, saying it was "difficult to see" if Tehran had breached an agreement not to sell its oil to Syria.
After the tanker was seized in July, Iran made assurances to a Gibraltar court that it would not deliver two million barrels of crude oil to the Syrian regime. The Adrian Darya 1 was released on August 18 and sailed around the eastern Mediterranean for a week before heading toward the Syrian coast and turning off its transponder on September 2.
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Iran claimed it sold the oil to an unnamed private company. Maritime trackers said it was likely the contents were offloaded to Syria through smaller vessels.
Britain and the US said such a move violated EU and US sanctions and breached the court agreement. Yesterday however, Fabian Picardo, chief minister of Gibraltar, said it was "difficult to see whose word you'd take for it".
"You can see from the images that the oil has ended up in Syria - but that's not to say that there's been a breach of the undertaking by Iran," he said. "We did not have an undertaking that the oil would not end up in Syria. We had an undertaking from the Iranians that they would not sell the oil to any EU-sanctioned entity."
The UK seized the vessel, then called the Grace 1, on July 4. Officials in Gibraltar voiced suspicion that it was en route to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
Iranian officials said the cargo was sold at sea to a third party. The private buyer of the oil "sets the sale destination" said the Iranian spokesman.
"It is now clear that Iran has breached assurances and that the oil has been transferred to Syria," said the UK.
The development came amid heightened tensions in the Gulf. EU diplomats warned yesterday that Britain's decision to join a US-led naval mission had delayed efforts to set up a maritime force in the Strait of Hormuz separate from American patrols. France and the UK proposed a European-led force in July, after Iran seized the Stena Impero, a UK-flagged tanker.