Iranian media claim Guards thwarted US attempt to capture oil tanker

A US attempt to capture Iranian oil on a tanker in the Sea of Oman was thwarted by the intervention of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iranian news sites have claimed.

According to the sometimes conflicting and sketchy reports, released on the eve of the anniversary of the Iranian seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, the US navy interdicted an Iranian oil tanker and intended to transfer the oil to a second tanker when the IRGC navy intervened by boarding and taking control of the tanker.

The US navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said it had seen reports of the incident but at present had no information to provide.

The reports claimed variously that the US pursued the tanker with helicopters, tried to block its path with warships, and tried to seize it for a second time but was unsuccessful.

Iran is under US sanctions that forbid it from exporting oil to anywhere other than Iraq, although in practice the sanctions regime has regularly been circumvented.

According to the reports, which painted the IRGC in a heroic light, the incident took place on Monday, which suggests the reports have been timed to coincide with the embassy seizure anniversary – an event marked by state-sponsored demonstrations.

At a minimum, the alleged episode underlines the instability in the Persian Gulf and the chance of a conflagration if the oil embargo continues and is heavily policed by the US.

Iran is on the cusp of announcing the date on which it is due to return to talks in Vienna over the future of the nuclear deal it signed with the US, EU and others in 2015. Donald Trump took the US out of the deal and started imposing sanctions on Iranian oil exports in 2018. Iran responded by dropping some of its commitments to the deal and increasing uranium enrichment.

Iran has been under intense pressure from Russia, a natural ally, to stop delaying the return to the talks. Powerful elements in Iranian politics do not want the talks to restart, seeing them as a blind alley. They believe Iran can withstand further US sanctions, build up trade with the east and develop its own nuclear programme free from UN inspectors.

In a tweet on Sunday the chair of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Masoud Khansari, said Iran’s oil exports to China had “drastically dropped” in the first seven months of the current Iranian calendar year, which began on 21 marzo. According to Khansari, in the first seven months of 2021 Iran exported just $11m of crude oil to China, compared with $9.5bn in 2018.

Iran says its use of middlemen in oil exports means it is not falling foul of the sanctions regime.

The head of the UN nuclear inspectorate, Rafael Grossi, has admitted that restrictions on the work of his inspectors by Iran at its nuclear sites mean his staff are now operating under a dense cloud.

In an attempt to unlock the talks, Joe Biden has given an undertaking to rejoin the 2015 deal if Iran stays in compliance. Biden met Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron at the G20 summit on Saturday to discuss the matter.

The four leaders urged the Iranian president to seize the opportunityto prevent a “dangerous escalation”. In una dichiarazione, loro hanno detto: “This will only be possible if Iran changes direction. We urge President [Ebrahim] Raisi to seize this opportunity and act in good faith so that negotiations can urgently find an outcome. It’s the only safe way to prevent a dangerous escalation that would be in no country’s interest.”

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