Iran’s Defence Minister Amir Hatami has described a recent detention of an Iranian tanker by the UK as a threatening and incorrect action.
In a speech on state-run television on Monday, Hatami warned that Iran would not “put up with” with what he called an act of “maritime robbery”.
“Recently, the British government, in a provocative move, seized an Iran-operated oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, which runs counter to international regulations and the commitments of the European signatories to the [2015 Iran] nuclear deal”, Hatami pointed out.
He separately referred to Iran's downing of a US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) last month, which Hatami called a message to Washington that Tehran is poised to defend its borders.
In June, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said that they had brought down a US Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone flying over the coastal province of Hormozgan because it violated the country's airspace.
The US Central Command has, for its part, said that the UAV was hit while operating over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz.
Hatami, at the same time, made it clear that Tehran is not interested in a war against any country.
In another development, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the tanker was not en route to Syria and that no Syrian port could dock the vessel. The Ministry pledged to take a spate of political, diplomatic and legal action in connection with the UK’s seizure of the tanker.
The remarks followed a similar statement by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi on Sunday saying that “contrary to what the British authorities are claiming, the tanker was not headed for Syria”.
Explaining that a Syrian port mentioned by the UK as the tanker's destination would not be able to accommodate the vessel, Araqchi at the same time did not specify where the ship was headed. He also stressed that no one had given the UK the right to seize the tanker in international waters, and that by doing so, the UK was engaging in “buccaneering”.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards senior commander earlier warned that the IRGC could seize a British oil tanker if an Iranian vessel detained in Gibraltar was not immediately released.
The statement followed developments on 4 July, when port and law enforcement agencies of the UK overseas territory of Gibraltar, aided by the Royal Marines, seized the Iranian supertanker Grace 1, claiming that the ship was transferring crude oil to Syria from Iran in violation of EU sanctions.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the seizure of the tanker as “a form of piracy” which the Ministry said proves that London is parroting “the hostile policies of the US”.
Shortly afterward, the Ministry summoned its UK ambassador over the incident, handing him documents proving that the tanker was heading to a permitted destination.
The seizure has also been condemned by Moscow, underscoring that it runs counter to EU signatories’ adherence to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May's office, in turn, praised the Royal Marines’ actions, adding that the seizure sent a “clear message” that London would not tolerate the violation of EU sanctions against Syria. US National Security Adviser John Bolton dubbed the seizure “excellent news”, saying that “America and our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran and Damascus from profiting off this illicit [oil] trade”.
Gibraltar's Supreme Court has, meanwhile, extended the detention of the Iranian tanker for two weeks, referring to EU sanctions against Syria.
A supertanker with a 300,000-tonne carrying capacity, the Grace 1 includes Indian, Pakistani and Ukrainian nationals among its 28-member crew who remain aboard the vessel, according to UK reports.