Revolutionary Guard says it has ‘duty to act’ after raid by Marines. Tanker crew are quizzed as Iran accuses Britain of joining US 'economic war'
By Nicholas Cecil, Kate Proctor and Robert Fox
Evening Standard – 5 July 2019
Iran has a "duty" to seize a British oil tanker if one of its own tankers detained by Royal Marines off Gibraltar is not released immediately, a senior commander of the country's Revolutionary Guard urged today.
The call was condemned by senior MPs and came as the crew of the Grace 1 supertanker were being quizzed by investigators over suspicions it was being used to bust EU sanctions on Syria with a cargo of Iranian oil.
"If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities' duty to seize a British oil tanker,"
said Revolutionary Guard Major General Mohsen Rezai, who is also secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, a powerful state body.
The vessel was seized off the Rock just after midnight yesterday and is unlikely to be released imminently as the probe could take weeks. Julian Lewis, Chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, criticised the warning from the IRG chief. He said:
"This is exactly the sort of threat that one would expect from a gangster regime like that of Iran."
Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said:
"Iran's actions in destabilising the region and spreading terror from Syria to the world is a threat to all of us. It's right the Royal Navy is doing what it can to enforce the EU sanctions process."
The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said the ship was still being held by authorities in Gibraltar and added:
"It's a matter for their authorities now and they'll launch an investigation and that will follow the usual process of a sanctions enforcement investigations. We welcome the action because it was enforcing the EU Syria sanctions regime. Our ambassador met with officials in Iran yesterday and reiterated that position."
Seizing a British ship would hugely escalate the current tense stand-off between Iran and the West.
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Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the swift action by Gibraltar and the Marines would deny resources to Syria's "murderous regime". White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said the US and its allies would continue to prevent Tehran and Damascus from
"profiting off this illicit trade".
Last month the US accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers with mines.