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U.S. Warns Countries Not To Do Business With Iranian Oil Tanker In The Mediterranean

Aug 21, 2019
Originally published on August 21, 2019 6:14 pm
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Diplomatic drama is playing out in the Mediterranean Sea. It involves an oil tanker at the center of a standoff between the U.S. and Iran. Britain detained the ship for a month off the coast of Gibraltar over claims that the Iranian crude oil onboard was bound for Syria, in violation of sanctions. Now it's on the move again, and the U.S. is warning countries not to do business with it. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Istanbul.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The Iranian tanker called the Adrian Darya moving slowly across the Mediterranean Sea might as well have a target on its mast. The U.S. has a warrant out on the tanker, claiming it's linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which Washington deems a terrorist organization. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered this warning.

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MIKE POMPEO: We've made clear anyone who touches it, anyone who supports it is at risk of receiving sanctions from the United States.

KAKISSIS: The ship has set course for Greece, which promises it will not help the tanker reach Syria. But Greece's deputy foreign minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, told a local TV network that he also does not want trouble with Iran in the Persian Gulf.

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MILTIADIS VARVITSIOTIS: (Through interpreter) It's important to us that the Strait of Hormuz is safe. It's important this trade is not threatened. And, of course, it's also important that we have really good relations with the United States, which is the biggest naval power in the world.

KAKISSIS: Oil trade researcher Giorgos Beleris says the Iranian tanker likely won't dock in Greece for a very practical reason - it's too big for Greek ports.

GIORGOS BELERIS: Tankers going there are significantly smaller. We're talking 20,000 to 30,000 tons, whereas this tanker is 320,000 tons. So the vessel would not fit.

KAKISSIS: The tanker is still days away from Greece and could linger in the Mediterranean. Or it could head back to Iran, according to Samir Madani of the site TankerTrackers. But the ship's crew can't steer it through the Suez Canal carrying 2 million barrels of crude oil.

SAMIR MADANI: They have to hand over about a million to another vessel, an empty vessel.

KAKISSIS: And with so much scrutiny on this tanker, it's not clear who would risk that transfer or where it would happen.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.