Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has termed recent US actions to seize Iranian oil as an act of “aggression” and “warfare” against Iran, and has called US sanctions “economic terrorism” in an interview with Russian news network RT.
The United States has admitted to trying to bribe the captain of an Iranian oil tanker in an attempt to seize the vessel. According to emails shared with the Financial Times, US representative for Iran Brian Hook attempted to bribe captain Akhilesh Kumar of Adrian Darya 1 to have him steer his vessel into US territorial waters, where it could be impounded.
Hook wrote, “With this money you can have any life you wish and be well off in old age”, and then warned, “If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you.” When Kumar did not reply, Hook emailed him further to say that the US Treasury had imposed sanctions on him.
This set of emails is part of a larger pattern wherein the US has attempted to enforce “the highest level of economic sanctions” to force a renegotiation of broader terms to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iran nuclear deal.
These events transpired after the EU rejected a request by the US to hold Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1 while flagged under Panama, in Gibraltar. The Gibraltar government argued that US sanctions would not be enforceable by EU authorities, following which the US issued a warrant for the vessel’s arrest on the basis that it might tranship oil to other vessels at its destination in Greece.
Hook said that the emails were an attempt to enforce US oil sanctions on Iran. “We’re working very closely with the maritime community to disrupt and deter illicit oil exports,” he said. However, while crew are being offered inducements to change ship course, they are also being told that failure to comply could see their US visas revoked, thereby preventing them from entering US waters.
Given that the US acts as an international hub for ship transfers and airport transits, the refusal of a US visa could significantly impact a seafarer’s ability to find work in the future.
In addition to this, between the threat of US sanctions and the fact that Iranian vessels are now unable to obtain international insurance, the US is warning ports around the world that they are at risk when they accept Iranian ships.
Zarif tweeted in response, “Having failed at piracy, the US resorts to outright blackmail — deliver us Iran’s oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself.” Zarif noted in his RT interview that Iran is still negotiating with European parties, particularly France, to seek the potential continuation of the JCPOA.