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Iran tanker detention by Britain was threatening act, minister says

Key Points
  • Britain's detention of an Iranian tanker last week was a threatening and incorrect action, Iran's Defense Minister Amir Hatami said.
  • Royal Marines seized the tanker on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
  • The intervention sparked Tehran's fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West.
A ship approaches supertanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019. - Iran demanded on July 5, 2019 that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States.
JORGE GUERRERO | AFP | Getty Images

Britain's seizing of an Iranian oil tanker last week was a threatening act that will not be tolerated, Iran's Defense Minister Amir Hatami said on Monday in a speech broadcast live on state television.

Royal Marines impounded the tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Iran denies the vessel was headed to Syria, where the government of President Bashar al-Assad is an ally of Tehran.

Authorities in the British territory said the tanker can be held for up to 14 days. An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened to seize a British ship in retaliation.

"These days we witnessed a threatening act from the government of England in the Strait of Gibraltar against a tanker from the Islamic Republic of Iran," Hatami said. "This is an incorrect and wrong action, an action similar to maritime robbery...certainly these kind of robberies will not be tolerated."

The tanker was not headed to Syria, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Sunday, without specifying the final destination of the vessel.

Hatami said Iran's downing of an unmanned American aircraft last month sent a message that the Islamic Republic would defend its borders. Washington said the drone was shot down over international waters.

Separately, Iranian army chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said on Monday that Iran is not looking for war with any country, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.