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Iran denies Grace 1 was bound for Syria, as cleric warns of ‘retaliatory measures’

REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Iran has said that the oil tanker intercepted off Gibraltar last Thursday was not headed for Syria.
Deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said on Sunday that the Iranian tanker's "destination was not Syria".
He added that there was no law allowing authorities in Gibraltar to stop the tanker and called it “piracy”.
“Despite what the government of England is claiming, the target and destination of this tanker wasn’t Syria,” Mr Araqchi said in a press conference broadcast live on Iranian state TV.
“The port that they have named in Syria essentially does not have the capacity for such a supertanker. The target was somewhere else.”
“It was passing through international waters through the Strait of Gibraltar and there is no law that allows England to stop this tanker.”
“In our view the stopping of this ship was maritime robbery and we want this tanker to be freed.”
The claim came a day after an influential Iranian cleric said Britain should be “scared” about Tehran's possible retaliation for the capture of the supertanker Grace 1.
The cleric’s comments were reported by the Fars semi-official news agency.
"I am openly saying that Britain should be scared of Iran's retaliatory measures over the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker," said Mohammad Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, a member of the powerful clerical body the Assembly of Experts.
"We have shown that we will never remain silent against bullying ...As we gave a staunch response to the American drone, the appropriate response to this illegal capture (of the tanker) will be given by Iran as well.”
Law enforcement agencies in Gibraltar supported by British Royal Marines seized the Grace 1 on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, in a move which drew Tehran's fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West.
Iran downed a U.S. military drone on June 20 that it said was flying over one of its southern provinces on the Gulf. Washington said the drone was shot down over international waters.
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened on Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker by Royal Marines.
And in another significant development, the detention of the Grace 1 was condemned by the Russian Government.
“We view the seizure of the vessel and its cargo as a deliberate action aimed at aggravating the situation around Iran and Syria,” Russia said in a statement issued by Moscow’s information and press department.
“Laudatory comments by top US and British officials immediately after the operation confirm this conclusion and prove that the action had been long in the making with the involvement of respective services and agencies of several countries.”
The Russian Government said it was “convinced" that this detention contradicted the stated intent of the EU’s leading nations, including the UK, to work to preserve the nuclear agreements with Iran.
It also said the decision to seize the vessel was “in sharp contrast” to statements by UK officials in support of a settlement in Syria.
“Dialogue and joint search for solutions is needed,” the Russian statement said.
“Instead, London, Washington and some other capitals are looking for pretexts to launch a further escalation.”
“The consequences may be dire, and the full weight of responsibility will be with those who keep trying to exert maximum illegitimate pressure on Tehran and Damascus in violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2231 and 2254.”
On Sunday, the vessel remained at anchor off the east side of the Rock.
On Friday, Gibraltar’s Supreme Court granted a 14-day extension for authorities to detain the supertanker while investigations continued.
NUCLEAR DEAL BACKGROUND
The backdrop to the vessel’s seizure last week was tension over Iran’s nuclear deal.
Yesterday, the UK Government demanded that Iran "immediately stop and reverse" actions which breached the terms of its nuclear agreement.
That came after Tehran announced it will raise its enrichment of uranium, breaking another limit of its 2015 agreement with world powers.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference that Iran will go beyond the limit of 3.67% enrichment and that the new percentage "will be based on our needs".
Iran made the decision a year after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the deal, putting its future in doubt.
The UK, France, German, Russia and China remain signed up to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal with Iran, which is aimed at preventing Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Iran has broken the terms of the JCPOA, following its announcement that it will start uranium enrichment above the 3.67% limit agreed in the nuclear deal.”
"While the UK remains fully committed to the deal, Iran must immediately stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its obligations.”
"We are co-ordinating with other JCPOA participants regarding the next steps under the terms of the deal, including a joint commission."
Tehran's decision came less than a week after it acknowledged breaking the deal's 300 kilogram limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile.
The JCPOA's difficulties come against a backdrop of increase tensions in the Gulf following an attack on two oil tankers which the UK and US have blamed on Iran and the downing of a US drone.

MAIN PHOTO: REUTERS/Jon Nazca