Iran's Quds Force is testing global community, US Treasury official says

Reported delivery of oil to Syria is to 'gauge international reaction'

This Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies appears to show the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya-1 off the coast of Tartus, Syria. Satellite images obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, appeared to show the once-detained Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya-1 near the Syrian port, despite U.S. efforts to seize the vessel. That's after Gibraltar earlier seized and held the tanker for weeks, later releasing it after authorities there said Iran promised the oil wouldn't go to Syria. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)
Powered by automated translation

Iran's Quds Force is "testing" the international community, a US Treasury official said on Sunday, after reports that Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 had partly offloaded its cargo in Syria.

The Grace 1, since renamed the Adrian Darya-1 by Iran, was carrying 2.1 million barrels of crude worth about $130 million (Dh447.4m).

It was detained in Gibraltar for six weeks amid suspicion that it was delivering the oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions against the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

Authorities in Gibraltar, a British territory, said they released the ship after receiving assurances from Iran that its cargo would not be delivered to Syria.

“We believe that the Quds Force is testing the international community to see whether they will turn a blind eye to these types of oil networks, to allow them to make profits to fund terrorism by Iranian proxies and atrocities by the Assad regime against innocent people,” said Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in the US Treasury.

The Quds Force is the external operations branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The US warned that it would impose sanctions on any buyer of Iranian oil as the Grace 1 travelled around the Mediterranean after being allowed to leave Gibraltar, before turning off its tracking systems off the Lebanese coast.

On Saturday, US National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted a satellite image of the ship off the coast of Syria, saying that "anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn't headed to Syria is in denial".

Ms Mandelker’s comments came during a visit to the UAE to meet government and private sector officials to “counter terror and Iran’s destabilising influence in the region and around the world”.

“We are here to send a strong message to the maritime industry that those who deal with Iran, transfer or facilitate the sale of Iranian oil that we will continue to press sanctions,” she said in Abu Dhabi.

"To date we have issued more than 30 rounds of sanctions targeting more than 1,000 Iranian entities.

Those sanctions were part of the US administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Sunday that the Grace 1 had reached its destination.

Mr Mousavi said the oil it carried had been sold but he did not disclose details of the buyer.

He announced that legal proceedings against a British tanker seized by Iran are close to completion and the vessel could be released soon.

Iran seized the Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19, two weeks after the Gibraltar government detained the Iranian Grace 1.

The UK said the move was illegal because the tanker was passing through an internationally recognised strait

But Iran claimed that the ship was involved in a collision with a fishing boat and had been detained under Iranian law.

On September 4, Tehran said it would free seven of the 23 detained crew members on “humanitarian grounds”.

The chief executive and president of Stena Bulk, the company that owns the vessel, said  the remaining sailors would remain on board to safely operate the vessel.

Meanwhile, France said Iran's decision to further reduce its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal was reversible and that Paris would continue to seek talks to bring Tehran back into full compliance.

"The actions they have taken are negative but not definitive. They can come back and the path of dialogue is still open," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday.

Mr Le Drian said Iran was still months away from a nuclear bomb despite taking steps to increase uranium enrichment.

The acting head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Cornel Feruta, was in Tehran over the weekend.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that a reduction of its commitments to the deal was allowed because the US had pulled out of the agreement and reimposed sanctions.

The IAEA said the visit was part of continuing interaction with Iran for "verification and monitoring in Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action", the official name for the deal. – Additional reporting by agencies