US says tanker spotted in Syria shows Iran deceitful

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 14 September 2019

US says tanker spotted in Syria shows Iran deceitful

  • US says has evidence Iranian ship transferred its oil to Syrian regime
  • An Iranian vessel was held for six weeks by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar

WASHINGTON, LONDON: Gibraltar acted in good faith when it released the Adrian Darya 1 tanker and Iran broke assurances it had given not to sell the crude oil to Syria, the British territory’s maritime minister said on Friday.

British commandos on July 4 seized the supertanker, formerly named the Grace 1, on suspicion that it was en route to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Gibraltar released it on Aug. 15 after getting written Iranian assurances that it would not discharge its cargo of around 2 million barrels of oil in Syria.

“We released the vessel in good faith based on assurances given by a sovereign nation,” said Gilbert Licudi, minister with responsibility for port and maritime affairs.

“The information we have is that despite the assurances that were given to the Gibraltar government that the vessel would not unload in Syria it appears that is what has actually happened,” he told Reuters on a visit to London.

Iran’s envoy to London said on Wednesday — after being summoned by Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab — that the Adrian Darya 1’s cargo was sold at sea to a private company, denying Tehran had broken assurances it had given over the vessel, adding that the EU’s Syria sanctions did not apply to Tehran.

Licudi said he did not know “for a fact” whether the ship had discharged the cargo at sea.

“It does not necessarily have to be in port, it can be ship-to-ship transfers in different amounts of cargoes and then it is delivered,” he said.

The US State Department said on Thursday Washington had evidence that the tanker had transferred its oil to the Syrian regime.

The tanker’s last reported position off Syria’s coast was on Sept. 2 before its public tracking transponder went dark, Refinitiv data showed.

“I think the importance here to our friends around the world in the international community is to note that once again you have been lied to and misled by the Iranian regime,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters.

Gibraltar refused a US request to seize the tanker in August, saying it was unable to comply because it was bound by EU law. 

“There was certainly no pressure from the US or from anybody else or even the UK. This was a decision that had to be taken because of our international responsibilities and our international obligations.”

“The Iranian regime broke its word and appears intent on fueling the Assad regime’s brutality against the Syrian people, who continue to face widespread violence, death and destruction,” Ortagus said.

President Donald Trump’s administration has slapped punishing sanctions on Iran after walking away from a multinational accord on ending its nuclear program.

But Trump has recently said he is open to meeting Iran’s leadership after France proposed an initiative aimed at lowering tensions.

Iran has rejected the authority of Gibraltar authorities to seize the ship, calling it an act of piracy.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Sunday that the Adrian Darya had “reached its destination and the oil has been sold,” without providing further details.

The United States offered millions of dollars to the ship’s Indian captain in an unsuccessful bid to encourage him to divert it to a US-friendly port where the vessel could be seized.


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 14 October 2019

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.