President Trump called Iran “nothing but trouble” after saying he heard from the U.K. that tankers were seized in the Strait of Hormuz.
The United States has applied to seize an Iranian oil supertanker, according to the government in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory where the ship was due to be released Thursday from detention after being impounded by authorities last month.
The U.S. action is the latest move in a standoff between Iran and Washington after President Donald Trump withdrew from an international nuclear accord with Tehran and reimposed sanctions. Tensions in the Persian Gulf have been on the rise ever since.
“The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered,” Gibraltar’s government said in a statement. It said the matter would be reviewed by a court at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. ET).
The Gibraltar Chronicle reported the U.S. Department of Justice filed a last minute application to extend the tanker’s detention during a hearing in Gibraltar’s Supreme Court. The Justice Dept. didn’t immediately respond to a comment request.
The tanker “Grace 1” was seized last month in a British Royal Navy operation off the coast of Gibraltar. Authorities suspected it of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. Its seizure has deepened tensions in the Persian Gulf, where Iran claims control of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments.
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While there was no immediate reaction from Iran, the development may further aggravate tensions in the Persian Gulf. After Gibraltar’s detention of “Grace 1,” Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker “Stena Impero” as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz. The Islamic Republic is still holding the “Stena Impero,” claiming it failed to stop after colliding with an Iranian fishing boat. Iran has also seized other foreign oil tankers and the U.S. blames Tehran for the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone as well as a series of sabotage attacks on ships operating in the Persian Gulf.
The Trump administration late last month sanctioned Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a move that has narrowed the window for dialogue with Iran. It was a decision that came after weeks of heated rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran as Washington has attempted to squeeze the regime economically and isolate it diplomatically. European signatories to the nuclear deal brokered during President Barack Obama’s administration, including Britain, have so far resisted pressure from Washington to abandon the landmark 2015 agreement that placed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in return for easing sanctions on its key industries, such as oil.
“Designed to provoke Tehran: Just as #Iran-UK-#Gibraltar were set to have #Grace1 tanker released today, #Trump admin moves in to spoil the effort. Will become another source of tension in Europe-US relations over Iran policy,” tweeted Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.
Authorities in Gibraltar said they decided to release “Grace 1” to ease tensions. Legal action against the ship’s crew and captain, an Indian national, were dropped.
New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who enjoys a good relationship with Trump, has not indicated publicly whether he intends to back Washington’s “maximum pressure” strategy over Iran that has stoked fears it could lead to military conflict. The two leaders will hold their first meeting since Johnson’s elevation to prime minister on the sidelines of a Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, on Aug. 24-26.
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