Iran says Saudis release tanker after 2 1/2 months
TEHRAN, Iran -- The latest on developments related to tensions between the U.S. and Iran (all times local):
Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency is reporting that Saudi Arabia has released an Iranian oil tanker after two and a half months.
Happyness 1, belonging to the Iranian National Tanker Company (NITC), which was carrying over 1 million barrels of fuel oil, suffered a malfunction in the Red Sea off the coast of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on April 30.
Mehr said Saudi officials had prevented the oil tanker from leaving the Jeddah port despite the fact that Iran had paid all the costs of maintenance and repair that the Saudi authorities had demanded.
Saudi authorities released the tanker and all its crew, including 24 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.
Britain's foreign secretary says he rejects Iran's attempt to link its seizure of a British-flagged tanker to a July 4 incident in which British marines helped take control of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar.
Jeremy Hunt said Saturday afternoon that Britain's action against the Grace 1 supertanker was legal because it involved the enforcement of international sanctions against Syria since the crude oil on board was bound for that country.
In contrast, he says, Iran had no legal justification for taking control of the Stena Impero tanker while it was in Omani waters and forcing it to go to Iran.
He says "due process" will continue in the Grace 1 case to determine what happens to the tanker and its cargo and called for Iran to also follow legal norms.
Hunt says Parliament will be briefed about the shipping crisis Monday.
The Algerian state oil and gas company Sonatrach says that the Iranian coast guard forced one of its tankers to head into Iranian waters before a confrontation ended.
Algeria's state-run news agency APS, quoting Sonatrach, said Saturday the empty tanker "MESDAR" was forced into Iranian waters Friday night as it moved through the Strait of Hormuz.
An emergency hotline between Algeria's energy and foreign ministries was quickly put into place and the incident concluded an hour and 15 minutes later. APS quoted Sonatrach as saying that "no human or material incident was registered."
It said that the tanker was heading to Tanura in Saudi Arabia to onload oil for the Chinese company UNIPEC when it was forced into Iranian territorial waters.
Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency is reporting that the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard has recently issued two warnings to aggressive U.S. drones.
The Saturday report quotes Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Gen. Mehdi Rabbani as saying an American MQ-9 drone had twice entered Iranian air space -- once on May 26 and again on June 13 -- and was confronted with hard warnings.
Gen. Rabbani said the advanced drone took off from a U.S. base in Kuwait on May 26 and flew about 20 hours near Iran's airspace.
When it approached the Iranian coast, it turned around after determining "our air defence system targeted and locked in on it."
On June 13, the drone took off from another country and when it crossed into Iran, "Our air defence systems locked in on it and it made a few warning shots."
Tasnim said the U.S. claimed that Iran launched missiles against the drone.
Britain's defence secretary says the British-flagged oil tanker that has been seized by Iranian forces was in Omani waters at the time.
Penny Mordaunt told Sky News on Saturday that the takeover was a "hostile act" by Iran. Britain has promised a "robust" response but there are no indications the use of military force is a likely option.
Mordaunt says that a British Royal Navy frigate deployed to help protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz was roughly 60 minutes from the scene when the Iranians took control of the tanker.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says Britain's response to Iran's seizure of a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz "will be considered but robust."
In comments on Twitter on Saturday, he wrote that he spoke with Iran's foreign minister and expressed extreme disappointment that the Iranian diplomat had assured him Iran wanted to de-escalate the situation but "they have behaved in the opposite way."
He wrote: "This has (to) be about actions not words if we are to find a way through. British shipping must & will be protected."
Britain's Foreign Office has summoned a senior Iranian diplomat to Whitehall to discuss the crisis brought about by Iran's seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
The summons to Iran's charge d'affaires came Saturday, one day after Iranian patrol boats backed by helicopter support took control of the Stena Impero tanker and brought it to Iran.
Britain has said it is seeking a diplomatic and not a military solution to the situation. It is calling for the immediate return of the vessel and its crew.
Britain's government has been holding emergency security Cabinet sessions to try and find a way out of the impasse.
The crisis came as Britain's government is in a state of transition, with Prime Minister Theresa May expected to be replaced by a new Conservative Party leader in just four days.
Germany says Iran's seizure of a British oil tanker and the brief detention of another is an "unjustifiable intrusion" on shipping through a key Persian Gulf route that is increasing tensions in the region.
The Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it "strongly condemns" Iran's actions on Friday against the vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.
The ministry is urging Iran to immediately release the ship and crew it seized, and said Britain has Germany's support.
It calls the seizure "an unjustifiable intrusion into the civilian shipping industry which further exacerbates an already strained situation."
It added that, "Another regional escalation would be very dangerous; it would also undermine all ongoing efforts to find a way out of the current crisis."
France's foreign ministry has called on Iran to quickly free a British-flagged oil tanker and its crew, as well as respect freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.
The ministry said in a statement on Saturday that the seizing of the ship "harms the needed de-escalation of tensions" in the region.
It firmly condemned the action while expressing solidarity with Britain.
Iran said it seized the tanker on Friday in the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, in what marked a new escalation of tensions in a crisis over the slow unraveling of the 2015 nuclear accord.
French President Emmanuel Macron has been leading a bid to de-escalate tensions and resume dialogue.
Iran's state TV is showing the first footage of a British-flagged oil tanker after it was seized a day earlier by the country's Revolutionary Guard.
The Saturday report published a video showing the Stena Impero docked near the port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran near the Strait of Hormuz.
Earlier Saturday, the director general of Ports and Maritime Affairs of Hormuzgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, said all 23 crew members would remain on board the ship in order to follow safety regulations.
Iran's Guardian Council, a powerful constitutional watchdog, says the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker was in response to Britain's role in seizing an Iranian tanker earlier this month.
The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, a council spokesman, as saying Saturday that "The rule of reciprocal action is well-known in international law."
Kadkhodaei says Iran made the right decision in the face of an "illegitimate economic war and seizure of oil tankers."
The Council rarely comments on such matters, but when it does, it's seen as a reflection of the supreme leader's views. That's because the council works closely with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.
The Indian and Philippine governments say they're working to get Iran to release nationals from the two countries who were on board a British-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran in the Persian Gulf.
India's foreign ministry spokesman, Raveesh Kumar, said Saturday its diplomats were "in touch with the Government of Iran to secure the early release and repatriation" of the 18 Indian crew members on the Stena Impero.
Manila's Department of Foreign Affairs also says its ambassador to Tehran is in contact with Iranian authorities to ensure the one Filipino crew member's safety and immediate release.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola says there have been no reports of injuries among the crew.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency has said the other crew members consisted of three Russians and a Latvian.
The chairman of Britain's House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee says military action to free the oil tanker seized by Iran would not be a good choice.
Tom Tugendhat said Saturday it would be "extremely unwise" to seek a military solution to the escalating crisis, especially because the vessel has apparently been taken to a well-protected port.
"If it has been taken to Bandar Abbas then that's an important Iranian military port and I think any military options will therefore be extremely unwise," he told BBC.
He also said it would not be useful to expel Iran's ambassador to the United Kingdom because it is important to keep talking.
Other senior British figures have said military options should not be used.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency is reporting that the country's seizure of British-flagged oil tanker a day earlier was due to a collision with an Iranian fishing boat.
Saturday's report says the British tanker caused damage to the fishing boat, then didn't respond to calls from the smaller craft.
The fishing boat informed Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization, which notified the Revolutionary Guard.
The report says Revolutionary Guard vessels directed the Stena Impero to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for an investigation Friday.
Iran's attempt to offer a "technical" explanation for seizing the tanker could signal a possible de-escalation of tensions in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which has become a flashpoint between Tehran and the West.
Another British ship was briefly detained by Iran on Friday before being allowed to go.