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September 24, 2019

Seized British tanker ‘free’ to leave: Iran


September 24, 2019

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Tehran of being behind attacks on Saudi oil installations, in remarks to reporters en route to New York where he will meet with Iran’s president.

"I can tell you that the UK is attributing responsibility with a very high degree of probability to Iran for the Aramco attacks," he said, cited by Britain’s Press Association news agency on Monday.

He is due to meet with President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly in New York. He will also discuss the attacks at a joint meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"We think it very likely indeed that Iran was indeed responsible for using both UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), both drones and cruise missiles," Johnson told reporters. "Clearly the difficulty is, how do we organise a global response? What is the way forward?

"And we will be working with our American friends and our European friends to construct a response that tries to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf region."

The United States has accused Tehran of carrying out air attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq plant and the Khurais oil field on September 14, knocking out half the kingdom’s oil production.

Iran denies responsibility for the attacks which were claimed by Iranian-back Huthi rebels in Yemen. Johnson said: "Clearly if we are asked either by the Saudis or the Americans to have a role then we would consider in what way we could be useful."

The British premier also said he would raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother held in Tehran since 2016, when he meets with Rouhani. Johnson has been accused of making her plight worse when, in a previous job as foreign minister, he said she had been training journalists in Iran before she was arrested for sedition.

Her family strongly denies this and he swiftly backtracked. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the media group’s philanthropic arm, denies all charges.Meanwhile, Iran said on Monday that a British-flagged oil tanker is "free" to leave more than two months after it was seized in the Gulf.

"The legal process has finished and based on that the conditions for letting the oil tanker go free have been fulfilled and the oil tanker can move," government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference.

He did not specify when the Swedish-owned vessel would be allowed to set sail. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps surrounded the Stena Impero with attack boats before rappelling onto the deck of the tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19.

The vessel was impounded at Iran’s Bandar Abbas port for allegedly failing to respond to distress calls and turning off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat. Stena Bulk, the company that owns the tanker, said on Sunday that it expected the vessel to be released soon, but expressed caution about the situation.

"We understand that the political decision has been taken to release the ship," Stena Bulk’s chief executive Erik Hanell told Swedish television station SVT. "We hope it will be able to leave in a few hours, but we don’t want to take anything for granted. We want to make sure the ship sails out of Iranian territorial waters," he said.

The ship’s seizure came hours after a court in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar said it was extending the detention of the Grace 1, an Iranian oil tanker later renamed the Adrian Darya 1.

At the time, Tehran denied the seizure of the Stena Impero was a tit-for-tat move. A Gibraltar court ordered the Iranian tanker’s release on August 15 despite an 11th-hour US legal bid to keep it in detention.

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