UK says seized Iranian oil tanker could be released

The supertanker was seized earlier this month off Gibraltar at the request of US authorities. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 July 2019

UK says seized Iranian oil tanker could be released

  • Jeremy Hunt made the comments after what he described as a “constructive call” with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif
  • Hunt says Zarif told him Iran is not seeking to escalate

DUBAI: Britain will facilitate the release of a seized Iranian tanker if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel would not breach European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria, Britain's top diplomat said late Saturday.
The comments by Jeremy Hunt could help de-escalate tensions that have spiked in recent days. In apparent retaliation for the seized tanker, Iranian paramilitary vessels tried to impede the passage of a British oil tanker through the Strait of Hormuz, only turning away after receiving "verbal warnings" from a British navy vessel accompanying the ship, the British government said.
Hunt said he held a "constructive call" with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and reassured him "our concern was the destination, not the origin, of the oil." Hunt wrote that Zarif told him Iran is not seeking to escalate.
The Foreign Office elaborated in a statement, saying: "This was about the enforcement of EU Syria sanctions: action was taken because of where the oil was going — a sanctioned Syrian entity — not because it was from Iran."
Ali Rabiei, an Iranian government spokesman, said British authorities would release the ship because "the tanker's destination was not what the British announced," according to state TV. Iranian officials had earlier denied the ship was bound for Syria.
A day earlier, Iran had reiterated its demands that the British navy release the tanker, accusing London of playing a "dangerous game" and threatening retribution.
The tanker's interception came on the heels of already high tensions in the Arabian Gulf as the Trump administration continues its campaign of maximum pressure on Iran.
President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers a year ago and has since re-imposed tough sanctions on Tehran's oil exports, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent its currency plummeting.
The U.S. has also sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East in recent weeks.
Iran recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in its 2015 nuclear deal, saying these moves can be reversed if the other parties to the agreement — Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union —come up with enough economic incentives to effectively offset the U.S. sanctions.
The Iranian supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, was seized with the help of British Royal Marines earlier this month off Gibraltar, a British overseas territory near the southern coast of Spain.
Hunt told reporters on Saturday that he told Zarif if the U.K. could receive sufficient guarantees that that tanker was not headed for Syria "then we would be able to resolve the situation following of course, due process in the Gibraltar courts."
In recent days, Hunt has called for "cool heads" to prevail to ensure there is no "unintended escalation."
The U.K., meanwhile, is accelerating the dispatch of the HMS Duncan to relieve the HMS Montrose, the frigate operating in the Arabian Gulf that warned away the Iranian vessels. The HMS Duncan, a destroyer, is larger than the HMS Montrose.
Police in Gibraltar said Friday they arrested four crewmen of the Iranian ship, including its captain and chief officer. All are Indian nationals.
A senior Spanish official had said the interception was carried out at the request of the United States, but later Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told parliament no other government had asked the territory to act.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 24 January 2020

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

“Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

“So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”