In a bid to de-escalate the Iran-U.K. tensions, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has hinted at a tanker “swap," suggesting that Tehran will release the British-flagged Stena Impero if the U.K. frees the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1.

The Iraqi prime minister who was in Tehran also said he was there at the behest of the British, showing that behind-the scenes negotiations were picking up to end the stalemate.

During a weekly cabinet meeting Wednesday, the premier said Iran does not seek the continuation of tension with some European countries. “If Britain steps away from the wrong actions in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran,” Rouhani said. “Iran would be open to talks should there be a cease-fire in U.S. economic sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy,” he added.

Rouhani also applauded Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for seizing the British ship because it had disregarded Iran’s orders and warnings. “They did a very accurate, professional and right job and I believe that the whole world must be grateful to the IRGC for ensuring the security of the Persian Gulf,” he said.

Persian Gulf
UK is increasing its military presence in the region by sending a second warship. The Type 45 frigate HMS Duncan will sail to the Gulf within the next week to join HMS Montrose, after it has completed a NATO exercise in the Black Sea. Pixabay

The maritime crisis in the Gulf spiked last Friday when the IRGC boarded the British-flagged oil tanker and diverted it to an Iranian port. Iran took this retaliatory step after the British Navy had helped seize an Iranian oil tanker in the Gibraltar for allegedly carrying oil to Syria. The U.K. Foreign Office claimed that they were negotiating with Iranian officials in London about the terms of Grace 1’s release, which were obstructed by Iran’s seizure of the Stena Impero.

Britain, the Guardian reported, offered to release the Grace 1 if Tehran provides guarantees that the ship will not continue with its plan to unload Iranian oil at a Syrian port. The U.K. maintains that export sales to the Baniyas refinery in Syria are prohibited under EU sanctions. Iran called the detention of its tanker an act of "piracy," while saying it seized the British flagged Stena Impero because it violated maritime regulations, trying to differentiate between the two actions.

Any tanker swap would mean the U.K. will have to climb down from the principled stand it had taken to justify the detention of the Grace 1. The mess has already raised questions in the country about London's handling of the situation.

Meanwhile, Iraq's Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, who was in Iran for a two-day visit, revealed that he was in Tehran at Britain’s behest to negotiate the release of the British oil tanker, the Guardian reported. “There was a phone call with the British defense minister to discuss bilateral ties, the regional crisis, and efforts to de-escalate and decreasing tensions in the region, and also the existing crisis covering the confiscated ships,” he said.

Rouhani said Iran would not tolerate a lack of discipline in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. He also made it clear that Iran is not looking for a military tension, explaining that the actions they have taken have been in accordance with the violations committed of the opposite side.