Iranian Tanker Released from Gibraltar, but Sanctions Draw a Growing Toll

US-Iran Tensions Continue to Rise

Gibraltar has released an Iranian oil tanker detained over a month ago, prompting American officials to issue a stern warning to Greece and others against allowing it to berth in their ports lest they incur American sanctions. Meanwhile, the ongoing burden of those sanctions has caused some in the Iranian political system to question the wisdom of seeking a nuclear accommodation with the West in the first place.

On August 19, Gibraltar, a self-governing British territory, announced that it was releasing the Adrian Darya 1 (formerly known as Grace 1), a supertanker that had been detained 45 days earlier by the Royal Navy over British suspicions that it was violating European Union sanctions on Syria. The previous day, officials in Gibraltar had rejected a U.S. request to seize the tanker, instead choosing to let the tanker reflag as an Iranian vessel and allow it -- and its $130 million cargo -- to sail. According to those officials, the sanctions violations listed in the American warrant “would not constitute offenses had they occurred in Gibraltar,” and “there are no equivalent sanctions against Iran in Gibraltar, the UK or the rest of the EU.”
American officials conveyed their displeasure with Gibraltar’s decision. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was “very unfortunate that that ship was released.” If Tehran turns a profit from the tanker's cargo, he added, the IRGC will have "more money, more wealth, more resources to continue their terror campaign."
The State Department released a further statement warning Greece and all other nations against allowing the Adrian Darya to dock in their ports. “We have conveyed our strong position to the Greek government on the matter, as well as all ports in the Mediterranean that should be forewarned about facilitating this vessel,” the statement said. A State Department representative added that “any efforts to assist these tankers could be considered as providing material support to a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO),” which carries significant legal consequences.
The sanctions campaign has meanwhile inspired a wave of second guessing among the Iranian political hierarchy. In an August 19 interview with NBC news, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and a close adviser to the Supreme Leader told American journalist Lester Holt that, in retrospect, Iran erred in signing the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. When Holt raised the possibility of the U.S. and Iran negotiating a new agreement, Shamkhani dismissed it, stating that "the sanctions campaign is not for negotiation, it's for making us surrender … [A]s long as this approach is taken by the United States, Iran will never ever seek negotiations."
For his part, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed skepticism about the Iranian position: “Iran would like to talk but they just don't know how to get there.” Iranians, the President noted are a “very proud people… But their economy is crashing, it's crashing. Inflation is through the roof. They're doing really badly.”

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