Iran Says Detained British-Flagged Tanker to Be Released

September 23, 2019 Updated: September 24, 2019

The British-flagged tanker detained by Iran in July, along with the vessel’s crew, will soon be released, an Iranian maritime official announced on Sept. 23.

All legal steps related to the release of the “Stena Impero” have been completed, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said. Rabiei added that he didn’t know the timetable for the actual release, according to Iranian media.

The move could be seen as a sign of Iran attempting to ease tensions, Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) International Security Program, told The Epoch Times.

“Iran is trying to generate some goodwill in the UK, as the UK decides how to respond to the Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities,” Cancian said via email on Sept. 23.

The Stena Impero was detained for alleged marine violations by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19. The seizure came weeks after Britain had seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar. That vessel was released in August.

“The legal work and administrative procedures for the release of the English tanker have been completed but I have no information on the time of the release,” Rabiei said, according to semi-official news agency ILNA.

The head of the Swedish firm that owns the vessel, Erik Hanell, told Reuters on Sept. 22 that he had arrived in the United Arab Emirates and that there was “no further development” on the vessel’s release.

The release comes as the United States prepares to deploy additional troops and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after President Donald Trump put off any immediate military strike on Iran, in response to the recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

The buildup in U.S. presence is the first step in increasing security, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters; he didn’t rule out additional moves.

Trump ordered on Sept. 18 an escalation of already unprecedented sanctions on Iran after drones and cruise missiles struck an oil field and two large oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 14.

Relations between the United States, its allies, and Iran have been gradually more strained since Washington withdrew in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal agreed upon by the previous administration and other world powers, and reimposed sanctions on Tehran aimed to shut down Iranian oil exports.

While Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attacks and Iran denied involvement, the Saudis displayed drone and missile debris as “undeniable” evidence of Iranian involvement. A Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman said during a Sept. 18 news conference that a total of 25 drones and missiles used in the attacks were launched from Iran, and not Yemen.

UN Meetings

French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters he would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sept. 23 at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The next day, Macron will meet with Trump in an attempt to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Trump said over the weekend that he has no plans to meet with Iran at the U.N. meetings. The president said he has about 15 meetings scheduled, but Iran isn’t one of them.

“France is trying to put together proposals to avoid an escalation,” Macron told reporters at the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly.

Future negotiations should be focused on keeping a system in place to monitor Iran’s current nuclear program, Macron reiterated, as well as discussing Iran’s post-2025 nuclear activities, ballistic missile program, and its regional influence.

“There are indications that it was a state attack and there was a level of equipment that suggests it wasn’t the Houthi rebels,” Macron said.

Macron said his meetings with Trump and Rouhani were aimed at pursuing recent French efforts to bring all sides to the table for a new negotiation.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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