By Idrees Ali
LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday he currently had no plan on his desk to seize the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, which is at the center of a dispute between Tehran and Western powers.
The tanker, which is loaded with Iranian crude oil, appears to have turned off its transponder in the Mediterranean west of Syria.
The vessel, formerly named Grace 1, was detained by British Royal Marine commandos off Gibraltar on July 4 as it was suspected to be en route to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
Gibraltar released the Iranian vessel on Aug. 15 after receiving formal written assurances from Tehran that the ship would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria.
“We do not talk about plans, but currently I have no plan right now sitting on my desk to do such a thing,” Esper told reporters in London when asked if there was any plan to seize the ship.
Washington has warned any state against assisting the ship, saying it would consider that support for a terrorist organisation, namely, Iran‘s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
U.S. officials have told Reuters that taking any military action like boarding the vessel was not being seriously considered by the United States as it would likely lead to an escalation that would increase tensions.
Esper said he was in favor of efforts by France and other countries to get Iran to hold talks.
“My personal view, but I’m not the lead for this, it’s the State Department, is if the French and others can get the Iranians to come to the table to talk, that would be a good thing,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday left the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The United States has been pressing Iran with sanctions since last year, when Washington abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, often referred to as the Iran nuclear deal.
While European countries, including France, have been trying to push Iran to remain in compliance with the deal, offering proposals such as a $15 billion credit line for Iran to do so, Trump administration officials said on Wednesday they were skeptical of such maneuvers.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Peter Cooney)