I have written twice before (here and here) on the fascinating story of the Grace 1 – an oil tanker going about its ordinary business, that was seized near Gibraltar by Royal Marines, on the instructions of the British government. The UK authorities claimed that the ship, which was bound for Syria, was in violation of EU sanctions on Syria.
The British government’s story was nonsense: Iran, not being part of the EU is not bound by EU sanctions on Syria. As pointed out by Gareth Porter, “The EU Council regulation in question specifies in Article 35 that the sanctions were to apply only within the territory of EU member states, to a national or business entity or onboard an aircraft or vessel “under the jurisdiction of a member state.””
In fact, the real reason the UK seized the ship probably has nothing to do with EU sanctions on Syria – but rather was acting at the request of the Trump administration in Washington which has an ongoing quarrel with Iran.
Anyway, on August 15th the Gibraltar Supreme Court gave permission for the Grace 1, (now renamed the Adrian Darya 1), to go free, after the Iranian authorities gave assurances that it would not deliver the oil to Syria.
The oil delivery
The latest is that, having made its way to the Eastern Mediterranean, it has now delivered its cargo. Apparently, the oil has ended up in Syria – though Iran has neither denied nor confirmed that. It merely said that the oil had been sold at sea to a private buyer, and it was up to the buyer where the oil went.
“Iran’s envoy to London said on Wednesday the oil cargo of tanker Adrian Darya 1 was sold at sea to a private company, denying Tehran had broken assurances it had given over the vessel, but he insisted EU’s Syria sanctions did not apply to Tehran.
“At (the) meeting with the British Foreign Secretary, it was emphasized that British authorities’ action against the tanker carrying Iranian oil was in violation of international law,” ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad said on Twitter after being summoned in London.
“EU sanctions cannot be extended to third countries. Despite numerous threats by America, the tanker sold its oil at sea to a private company and has not violated any obligation,” Baeidinejad added.
“The private company … (which is ) the owner of the oil sets the sale destination of the oil,” Baeidinejad told the state news agency IRNA.”
In other words, the oil went to Syria, and the Iranians felt no obligation to do what the UK government wanted after the UK government had shown complete unwillingness to abide by international law.
Bribery and blackmail
That was all fairly predictable. What was not expected was a startling story that the Financial Times broke last week:
“Four days before the US imposed sanctions on an Iranian tanker suspected of shipping oil to Syria, the vessel’s Indian captain received an unusual email from the top Iran official at the Department of State.
“This is Brian Hook . . . I work for secretary of state Mike Pompeo and serve as the US Representative for Iran,” Mr Hook wrote to Akhilesh Kumar on August 26, according to several emails seen by the Financial Times. “I am writing with good news.”
The “good news” was that the Trump administration was offering Mr Kumar several million dollars to pilot the ship — until recently known as the Grace 1 — to a country that would impound the vessel on behalf of the US. To make sure Mr Kumar did not mistake the email for a scam, it included an official state department phone number.”
“The remarkable outreach by such a high-ranking official was not an isolated case. Mr Hook, who heads the state department’s Iran Action Group, has emailed or texted roughly a dozen captains in recent months in an effort to scare mariners into understanding that helping Iran evade sanctions comes at a heavy price.
“Iran knows that the success of our pressure campaign depends on vigorous enforcement of oil sanctions,” Mr Hook told the FT. “We have collapsed Iran’s oil exports in a short period of time. We are working very closely with the maritime community to disrupt and deter illicit oil exports.”
The offer to Mr Kumar marks a new front in the US “maximum pressure” campaign designed to starve Iran of cash and persuade Tehran to come to the table to negotiate a broader deal than the nuclear accord that Iran signed with the Obama administration and world powers in 2015. . .
“With this money you can have any life you wish and be well-off in old age,” Mr Hook wrote in a second email to Mr Kumar that also included a warning.“If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you.”
In response to the FT story, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, tweeted: “Having failed at piracy, the US resorts to outright blackmail — deliver us Iran’s oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself.”
And the comments of Daniel Larison at The American Conservative, were equally scathing:
“The administration’s Iran obsession has reached a point where they are now trying to bribe people to act as pirates on their behalf. When the U.S. was blocked by a court in Gibraltar from taking the ship, they sought to buy the loyalty of the captain in order to steal it. Failing that, they resorted to their favorite tool of sanctions to punish the captain and his crew for ignoring their illegitimate demand. . .
Many people have already mocked Hook’s message for its resemblance to a Nigerian prince e-mail scam, and I might add that he comes across here sounding like a B-movie gangster. Hook’s contact was not an isolated incident, but part of a series of e-mails and texts that he has sent to various ships’ captains in a vain effort to intimidate them into falling in line with the administration’s economic war. This is what comes of a foreign policy of “maximum pressure” and swagger: tawdry bribes, heavy-handed threats, and complete failure.
As amusing as it is to point out the administration’s incompetence, we need to remember that the economic war that the administration is waging is illegitimate and it is doing great harm to the Iranian people. The economic war may be run by clowns, including Brian Hook, but it is causing severe damage to innocent people all over Iran.“
Which raises the question, how many people in the US – or the UK – are concerned about innocent people in Iran?
Honesty or hypocrisy
And for that matter, how many people in the UK are actually concerned about honesty? I ask, because, for me, the most interesting thing about all this is the statement put out by the UK Foreign Office concerning the Adrian Darya’s oil delivery:
“An angry statement from the Foreign Office said it was “now clear that Iran has breached these assurances and that the oil has been transferred to Syria and Assad’s murderous regime”.
It said the Iranian ambassador had been summoned to explain the “unacceptable violation of international norms”, and that the UK would be raising the issue at the United Nations later this month.
Mr Raab added: “This sale of oil to Assad’s brutal regime is part of a pattern of behaviour by the government of Iran designed to disrupt regional security.
“This includes illegally supplying weapons to Houthi insurgents in Yemen, support for Hezbollah terrorists and most recently its attempts to hijack commercial ships passing through the Gulf.” “
This statement is breathtaking in its dishonesty and hypocrisy.
Let’s break it down
1) “Iran has breached these assurances “
As I have already pointed out, Iran was dealing with a gang of pirates who had little regard for honesty or international law, and clearly felt no obligation to be strictly honest with them
2) “the Iranian ambassador had been summoned to explain the “unacceptable violation of international norms“
I suspect that the Iranian ambassador responded that he was unimpressed with the UK’s “unacceptable violation of international norms”
3) “the UK would be raising the issue at the United Nations later this month.”
I suspect that everyone at the UN will remember how just a few months ago, its “general assembly has overwhelmingly backed a motion condemning Britain’s occupation of the remote Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.” and how “The 116-6 vote left the UK diplomatically isolated“
4) “the oil has been transferred to Syria and Assad’s murderous regime . . . sale of oil to Assad’s brutal regime“
Assad’s regime is, indeed brutal, but then so are the vast majority of regimes in the Middle East, including that of the UK’s close allies, the Saudi Arabians. It is also worth pointing out that the Assad regime allows full religious liberty, unlike the Saudi government who don’t allow Christian churches to operate at all, and whose brutality extends to crucifying convicted prisoners convicted in highly questionable trials.
And, furthermore, the Assad regime in Syria was fighting a civil war against extremely brutal Islamic militants backed by our good friends, the Saudi government.
5) “a pattern of behaviour by the government of Iran designed to disrupt regional security“
I don’t know what Raab means by “regional security”, but when it comes to the disrupting the region of the Middle East, the UK’s involvement in a completely unprovoked invasion of Iraq that probably lead to the death of over a million people, not to mention its involvement in the Libya fiasco. is pretty appalling. Compared to the UK, Iran looks like a paragon of virtue.
6) “This includes illegally supplying weapons to Houthi insurgents in Yemen“
Apart from the fact that there is no evidence of Iran supplying any significant number of arms to the Houthi forces in Yemen, Dominic Raab’s statement utterly ignores the reality of what is happening on the ground in Yemen. Yemen has been in a state of civil war for several years, and in 2015, Saudi Arabia decided to launch an invasion. Their attack has consisted of indiscriminate bombing, often of civilian targets, and imposing a blockade designed to starve the civilian population into submission. It has resulted in a completely man-made cholera epidemic which has killed thousands of children. And all the while, guess who has been supplying weapons to the Saudi armed forces in order to support their war crimes? Yes, you’ve guessed it. The UK government has stood shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi government.
And what about Brexit?
Meanwhile, in the UK, you will listen in vain for any criticism of Dominic Raab’s outrageously dishonest comments on this affair. The silence is deafening. All they can talk about is Brexit and proroguing parliament and the Prime Minister possibly lying to the Queen.
But I think there is a connection. Rob Slane wrote a thoughtful piece last week, entitled “Brexit — As Explained to the Bemused and Befuddled“. In it, he writes “Even though there are no doubt a few honourable individual exceptions, I am left utterly appalled by all parties in Parliament, with each one exhibiting their own particular flavour of cynicism and duplicitousness. “
I think he is entirely correct. But this isn’t just about Brexit. It is about the whole political establishment. The Grace 1 affair, and the astonishing remarks of the Foreign Secretary, and the absence of any criticism, are simply part of the same picture.
I, too, am left utterly appalled by all parties in Parliament. And they all do exhibit cynicism and duplicitousness.