Iranian oil tanker pursued by US is seen off the Syrian coast

In this file photo taken on August 18, 2019 an Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. (AFP)
Updated 01 September 2019

Iranian oil tanker pursued by US is seen off the Syrian coast

  • The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya slowed to a near-stop on Sunday some 50 nautical miles (92 km) off Syria

DUBAI: An Iranian oil tanker pursued by the US across the Mediterranean Sea slowed to a near-stop on Sunday off the coast of Syria, where America’s top diplomat alleges it will be unloaded despite denials from Tehran.

The ongoing saga of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, comes as tensions remain high between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran is set to send a deputy foreign minister and a team of economists to Paris on Monday for talks over ways to salvage the accord after a call between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya slowed to a near-stop on Sunday some 50 nautical miles (92 km) off Syria. The ship’s Automatic Identification System does not show its destination after its mariners onboard previously listed it as ports in Greece and Turkey. Turkey’s foreign minister at one point suggested it would go to Lebanon, something denied by a Lebanese official.

The US has been warning countries not to accept the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of crude oil worth some $130 million. The US has sanctioned the Adrian Darya’s captain and has sought to impound the vessel.

Authorities in Gibraltar alleged the ship was bound for a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, when they seized it in early July. They ultimately let it go.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged on Twitter that the ship was still bound for Syria.

“We have reliable information that the tanker is underway and headed to Tartus, Syria,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter. “I hope it changes course.”

Iranian officials have said the oil onboard the Adrian Darya had been sold to an unnamed buyer. However, anyone buying Iranian crude oil would be subject to US sanctions.

Bouthaina Shaaban, adviser of Syria’s Bashar Assad, separately told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that Damascus is trying to get oil that its people need “but authorities don’t know where the Iranian tanker is heading.”

French connection

Meanwhile, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi is due to travel to Paris with economists on Monday, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. That came after a call on Saturday between Rouhani and Macron, who recently surprised the Group of Seven summit in France by inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif there.

Iran is set to further break the terms of the nuclear deal on Friday if Europe fails to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market. The US under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal over a year ago and imposed sanctions on Iran that are battering its economy.

The deal’s “terms are not changeable and all the parties need be committed to its content,” Rouhani said, according to IRNA.


Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

Updated 48 min ago

Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

  • UN has put forward a phased roadmap calling for an immediate end to violence and electoral reform within 2 weeks
  • Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change

BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials must ramp up their response to mass demonstrations demanding an overhaul of the political system, the UN representative in Baghdad told AFP in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who heads the UN’s Iraq mission (UNAMI), said the country’s authorities must “step up to the plate and make things happen.”
“They are elected by the people, they are accountable to them,” she said.
Protests broke out in Baghdad and the country’s Shiite-majority south in early October over rampant corruption, lack of jobs and notoriously poor services.
One in five people lives below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second biggest producer.
The United Nations has proposed a phased roadmap that, in a crucial step, was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani after meeting Hennis-Plasschaert.
It calls for an immediate end to violence, electoral reform and anti-graft measures within two weeks followed by constitutional amendments and infrastructure legislation within three months.
Hennis-Plasschaert discussed the plan with lawmakers on the sidelines of a parliamentary session on Wednesday, telling them: “Now is the time to act, otherwise any momentum will be lost — lost at a time when many, many Iraqis demand concrete results.”
Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change, unimpressed by government promises of reform.
“There is lots at stake here. Public trust is at an all-time low,” Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP.
“Nothing is more detrimental to public trust than saying ‘A’ and doing ‘B.’ Nothing is more harmful than overpromising and under-delivering,” she added.
Hennis-Plasschaert, 46, was named UNAMI chief last year after having served as the Netherlands defense minister from 2012 until 2017.
She is one of the very few diplomatic figures who meets with Sistani, the revered 89-year-old cleric who never appears in public.
Following their meeting on Monday, she said Sistani, known as the marjaiyah, feared political forces were “not serious enough” to enact reforms.
“If the three authorities — executive, judiciary and legislative — are not able or willing to conduct these reforms decisively, there must be a way to think of a different approach,” she warned at the time.
Pressed by AFP on what the “different approach” could be, Hennis-Plasschaert declined to elaborate, citing “the confidentiality we have with him.”
“The conversation with Grand Ayatollah Sistani is always straightforward, open, and frank, but I cannot go into further detail,” the top diplomat said.
Demonstrators gathering in the main protest camp of Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Wednesday said her meeting with Sistani helped bolster their crowds.
Hennis-Plasschaert met with protesters in Tahrir last month, even riding in the tuk-tuk rickshaw that has become an icon of the uprising for ferrying wounded protesters to medics.
“They are losing brothers and friends in the streets,” she said of the young protesters she had met.
More than 300 people have died and 15,000 people have been wounded since demonstrations erupted on October 1.
“We are witnessing rising numbers of deaths and injured every day. It’s horrific,” Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The protests initially fractured the political class but it has rallied in recent days to prop up the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
Politicians closed ranks following a series of meetings with top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, an extremely influential figure who often brokers deals among Iraq’s fractured political class.
Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP she did not seek to be a counter-weight to Iranian influence but said she feared that “spoilers” could prevent progress.
“This country unfortunately knows many actors, external, internal, that could act as spoilers (and) undermine the legitimate demands of the people,” she said.