Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday said his country will retaliate over the seizure of an Iranian tanker by Britain, and vowed to further roll back its commitments under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
“The vicious British… have committed piracy and stolen our ship… God willing, the Islamic Republic will not leave these vicious acts unanswered,” Khamenei said in a speech in Tehran that was partly aired on state television, referring to the incident off the coast of Gibraltar on Sunday.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain will facilitate the release the ship if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel will not breach European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.
Khamenei’s remarks came as concerns mounted over the fate of a United Arab Emirate’s oil tanker, which drifted into Iranian waters as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend and has not been seen since.
Tensions have soared in the Persian Gulf over the past few months, which have seen the US send thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets into the Mideast. Mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Iran shooting down a US military surveillance drone has added to the fears of an armed conflict breaking out.. The friction comes after last year US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Angered that its beleaguered economy is not receiving sanctions relief it believes was promised under the deal, Iran has intensified its sensitive uranium enrichment work. Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal, and it has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
Khamenei said Tuesday that Tehran will “certainly continue” to roll back on its commitments under the accord.
“You did not carry out a single one (of your commitments), why do you want us to stick to our commitments?” Khamenei said, criticizing European countries which are party to the deal.
“We have just started to decrease our commitments (in the deal) and this process will certainly continue,” he said.
The European Union is desperately trying to prevent the deal unraveling completely, seeing the pact as the best way to stop Tehran acquiring atomic weapons.
Nuclear experts are concerned that Iran’s enrichment moves could shorten the year-long period it would need to produce the 90% enriched uranium required for a nuclear weapon.
On Monday the European Union declared that the recent Iranian violations of a nuclear deal are not significant enough to necessitate reimposing sanctions.
Iran’s non-compliance is not “considered to be significant non-compliance,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said at a press conference, as the European foreign ministers held crisis talks on saving the beleaguered nuclear deal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the EU response.
“It seems that there are those in Europe who won’t wake up until Iranian nuclear missiles fall on European soil, and then, of course, it will be too late. In any case, we will continue to do everything necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” said the prime minister.