Iran not looking for war, says commander of country’s armed forces
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Iran not looking for war, says commander of country’s armed forces

Defense minister calls Britain’s seizing of oil tanker off Gibraltar ‘piracy,’ contrary to international regulations and nuclear deal commitments

Maj. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, head of the Iranian Army. (Screen capture)
Maj. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, head of the Iranian Army. (Screen capture)

A day after Iran drew international condemnation for announcing that it was rolling back some of its commitments under its landmark nuclear deal with world powers, the commander of Iran’s armed forces said Monday that his country does not want to provoke a conflict.

Maj. Gen. Seyed Abdolrahim Mousavi said that Tehran is not looking for war with any country, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.

On Sunday, senior Iranian officials declared that the country would enrich uranium beyond the 3.67 percent purity level set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 pact that saw international sanctions lifted in return for Iran limiting parts of its nuclear program.

Tehran took the action in response to Washington abandoning the nuclear deal last year and hitting its crucial oil exports and financial transactions with biting sanctions.

Iran also threatened to go further and abandon more nuclear commitments unless the remaining partners to the pact — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — help it to circumvent US sanctions, especially to sell its oil.

Experts warn that higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrows the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented.

Iran’s uranium conversion facility near Isfahan, which reprocesses uranium ore concentrate into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment, March 30, 2005. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

US President Donald Trump responded with a warning that Iran “be careful,” while European powers condemned Tehran’s decision. Britain warned Iran to “immediately stop and reverse all activities” violating the deal and Germany said it was “extremely concerned.”

In recent weeks, the wider Persian Gulf has seen Iran shoot down a US military surveillance drone, mysterious attacks on oil tankers, and Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen launching bomb-laden drones into Saudi Arabia.

Also Monday, Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami condemned Britain for seizing an oil tanker last week in Gibraltar on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

“Recently, the British government, in a provocative move, seized an Iran-operated oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, which runs counter to international regulations and the commitments of the European signatories to the nuclear deal,” Hatami said in a speech broadcast live on television, according to Mehr.

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami speaks at the Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

“It is a kind of marine piracy,” he added, addressing a ceremony marking the delivery of new patrol boats to Iran’s marine police. “We will not tolerate this kind of piracy by the United Kingdom.”

The Grace 1 tanker was halted in the early hours of Thursday by police and customs agencies, aided by a detachment of British Royal Marines.

The ship was detained 2.5 miles (four kilometers) south of Gibraltar in what it considers British waters, although Spain, which lays claim to the territory, says they are Spanish.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement at the time that the ship was believed to have been carrying crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria, which he said is “the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.”

Iran on Friday demanded that Britain immediately release the tanker, but Gibraltar’s Supreme Court ruled that the vessel can be held for 14 more days.

A British Royal Navy ship (L) patrols near supertanker Grace 1, which is suspected of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, after it was detained off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4, 2019. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP)

A senior Iranian cleric was quoted Saturday as saying the UK should be “scared” about possible retaliation for the detention of the ship and a former leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Friday threatened to seize a British tanker.

European Union sanctions against war-torn Syria have been in force since late 2011.

The 28-member bloc has imposed sanctions on Syrian officials including government ministers over their role in the “violent repression” of civilians.

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