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Friday , October 30 2020

US unsure on circumstances of tanker, Iran claims aided disabled ship

Missile talks challenge US arms sales

Royal Marine patrol vessel is seen beside the Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, Thursday, July 4, 2019. Authorities in Gibraltar said they intercepted Thursday an Iranian supertanker believed to be breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Tehran’s crude oil to war-ravaged Syria. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

DUBAI, July 17, (Agencies): Iran says remarks by the country’s foreign minister about Iran’s missile program possibly being up for negotiations with the US meant to challenge Washington’s arms sales policy to the region – and were not meant to indicate a readiness by Tehran for any such talks.

The Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tweeted late on Tuesday that Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments “threw the ball into the US court while challenging America’s arm sales” to its Mideast allies. Zarif had said in an NBC News interview that if the US wants to talk about Iran’s missiles, “they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region.” Iran has long rejected negotiations over its missile program. Iran’s mission to the United Nations also described Zarif’s comments as purely “hypothetical”.

Iran and the United States sent mixed signals on Tuesday about resolving their disputes as Iran’s supreme leader threatened to further breach the 2015 nuclear deal while the US president cited “a lot of progress.” Tensions have risen since US President Donald Trump last year abandoned the major powers’ nuclear deal with Iran under which Tehran agreed to curtail its nuclear program in return for the lifting of global sanctions crippling its economy.

Washington has since reimposed draconian sanctions to throttle Iran’s oil trade in a “maximum pressure” policy to force Tehran to agree stricter limits on its nuclear capacity, curb its ballistic missile program and end support for proxy forces in a regional power struggle with US-backed Gulf Arabs. Fears of direct US-Iranian conflict have risen since May with several attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, Iran’s downing of a US surveillance drone, and a plan for US air strikes on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute. Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday said Tehran would keep removing restraints on its nuclear activity in the deal – struck with Britain, China, France, Germany Russia and the United States – and retaliate for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate authority, accused Britain, Germany and France of failing to uphold obligations under the deal to restore Iranian access to global trade, especially for Tehran’s oil exports blocked by US sanctions. “According to our foreign minister, Europe made 11 commitments, none of which they abided by. We abided by our commitments and even beyond them. Now that we’ve begun to reduce our commitments, they oppose it. How insolent! You didn’t abide by your commitments!” Khamenei said, according to his website. “We have started to reduce our commitments and this trend shall continue,” Khamenei said in remarks carried by state television.

United Nations nuclear inspectors last week confirmed Iran is now enriching uranium to 4.5 percent fissile purity, above the 3.67 percent limit set by its deal, the second breach in as many weeks after Tehran exceeded limits on its stock of low-enriched uranium. The level at which Iran is now refining uranium is still well below the 20 percent purity of enrichment Iran reached before the deal, and the 90 percent needed to yield bomb-grade nuclear fuel. Low-enriched uranium provides fuel for civilian power plants.

Khamenei has previously upbraided European powers for not standing up to Trump and circumventing his sanctions noose. But it was the first time Khamenei explicitly pledged to press ahead with breaches of the nuclear deal, spurning European appeals to Iran to restore limits on enrichment aimed at obviating any dash to development of atomic bombs. “So far, efforts to win gestures from Iran to de-escalate the crisis are not succeeding (as) Tehran is demanding the lifting of sanctions on its oil and banking sectors first,” a European diplomatic source told Reuters.

Iran denies any intent to acquire nuclear weapons, and has said all its breaches could be reversed if Washington returned to the deal and its economic dividends were realised.

Tehran has accused Washington of waging “economic war.” “Western governments’ major vice-is their arrogance,” Khamenei said. “If the country opposing them is a weak one, their arrogance works. But if it’s a country that knows and stands up against them, they will be defeated.”

US officials say they are unsure whether an oil tanker towed into Iranian waters was seized by Iran or rescued after facing mechanical faults as Tehran asserts, creating a mystery at sea at a time of high tension in the Gulf. The MT Riah disappeared from ship tracking maps when its transponder was switched off in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14. Its last position was off the coast of the Iranian island of Qeshm in the strait. Iran says it towed a vessel into its waters from the strait after the ship issued a distress call.

Although Tehran did not name the vessel, the Riah is the only ship whose recorded movements appear likely to match that description. Iranian navy vessels came to the assistance of a disabled foreign oil tanker in the Gulf that needed repairs, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Tuesday by the semi-official news agency ISNA.

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