Pompeo: US has ‘reliable information’ Iranian tanker headed to Syria

Pompeo: US has ‘reliable information’ Iranian tanker headed to Syria

Secretary of state says Adrian Darya 1 sailing to port of Tartus, calls UK decision to trust Iran ‘a big mistake’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the 101st National Convention of The American Legion in Indianapolis, August 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the 101st National Convention of The American Legion in Indianapolis, August 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that the US had intelligence indicating that the Iranian tanker Adrian Darya 1 was heading for Syria, despite Tehran giving assurances that its cargo would not go there.

Pompeo said that the United Kingdom should not have trusted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif when it decided to release the tanker, and that the ship belonged to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

“FM @JZarif guaranteed to the UK that the IRGC oil tanker #Grace1 / #AdrianDarya1 would not head to Syria. We have reliable information that the tanker is underway and headed to Tartus, Syria. I hope it changes course. It was a big mistake to trust Zarif,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

A Friday report from the Wall Street Journal also said the ship was headed to Syria and was planning to move its cargo of 2.1 million barrels worth around $140 million to smaller ships which would then carry it to Syria.

Gibraltar’s Supreme Court ordered the tanker released earlier this month after the British overseas territory received written assurances from Iran that the Adrian Darya 1, formerly called the Grace 1, would not head to any country subject to European Union sanctions.

Earlier Friday Lebanon dismissed Turkish claims that it would receive the Adrian Darya 1.

Every change of tack by the huge vessel has sparked intense speculation.

The ship was released by Gibraltar despite a US attempt to keep it detained on suspicion that its cargo was bound for Syria.

While Iran has denied selling the oil to its ally Damascus, experts told AFP the likely scenario was for a ship-to-ship transfer, with a Syrian port as the final destination.

Maritime traffic monitors had shown that the Adrian Darya 1’s latest listed destinations, which are not necessarily the next approved port of call, were in Turkey.

After tracking sites showed Mersin as its destination, it then switched to Iskenderun, prompting a reaction from Turkey’s foreign minister Friday.

“This tanker is not heading actually to Iskenderun [in Turkey], this tanker is heading to Lebanon,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit to Oslo.

A view of the Grace 1 super tanker with the name ‘Adrian Darya 1’ over the place where ‘Grace 1’ had already been blackened out is seen in the British territory of Gibraltar, August 17, 2019. (Marcos Moreno/AP)

He later clarified that he did not necessarily mean the tanker would dock at a Lebanese port, but that it appeared to be heading “towards the country’s territorial waters.”

Lebanon swiftly dismissed the scenario, stressing that it never buys crude oil because it simply does not have refineries.

“The energy ministry does not buy crude oil from any country and Lebanon does not own a crude oil refinery,” Energy Minister Nada Boustani said in a statement.

She added that Lebanon had not received any docking request from the tanker.

According to maritime traffic monitoring websites, the huge tanker on Friday was just northwest of the island nation of Cyprus.

Iran said Monday it had “sold the oil” aboard the tanker and that the owner would decide the destination. It did not identify the buyer or say whether the oil had been sold before or after the tanker’s detention in the Strait of Gibraltar, on Spain’s southern tip.

The ship was seized by Gibraltar police and British special forces on July 4 and held for six weeks on suspicion of shipping oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.

British Royal Marines sail toward the Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

Iran denied the charge, but said it could not name the actual destination due to the United States’ “economic terrorism” and its sanctions on Iranian oil sales.

In July, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps impounded a British-flagged tanker in strategic Gulf waters. Britain called it a tit-for-tat move but Tehran denied any connection.

A court in the British territory ordered the tanker’s release on August 15 despite a last-minute legal bid by the United States to have it detained.

The Adrian Darya 1 set sail for the eastern Mediterranean three days after it was released. According to maritime traffic monitoring websites, the huge tanker has changed direction multiple times, following no apparent logic.

After the vessel listed Iskenderun as its destination, the TankerTrackers social media account noted Friday that little could be read into this.

“Consider this just a record update rather than anything substantial. We believe a transfer is still a few days away. Turkey will not import this oil,” it said.

It earlier described the ship as “aimlessly moseying around the Med.”

Tensions between Iran and the US have soared ever since Washington stepped up its campaign of “maximum pressure” against Tehran and reimposed sanctions after last year unilaterally pulling out of a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal.

Syria, which has ports on the Mediterranean, is also under a raft of US and European sanctions over its eight-year conflict.

Russia — which together with Iran, is Damascus’s key ally in the conflict — announced Friday that a ceasefire would come into force in the northwestern region of Idlib.

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