Iran 'to release seven crew members from Stena Impero oil tanker'
Iran 'to release seven crew members from Stena Impero oil tanker'

I ran has said it will release seven crew members from a British-flagged tanker seized in July, in the first sign of a possible easing of the standoff between London and Tehran over the ship’s fate. 

Seven men from the 23-member crew of the Stena Impero will be released on humanitarian grounds, the Iranian foreign ministry said Wednesday. All seven are Indian citizens. Another 11 Indians, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino remain in Iran’s custody. 

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, meanwhile said that his country would continue escalating its violations of the 2015 nuclear agreement unless Europe found a way to get around US sanctions and Iran’s flagging economy. 

Mr Rouhani said the next round of violations would be “the most important” yet and would be announced in the coming days. Iran and France have been negotiating an effort to save the nuclear deal but have so far not been able to reach a final agreement. 

The Stena Impero was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in July days after Royal Marines boarded Iran’s Grace 1 tanker and impounded it in Gibraltar. 

T he Grace 1, now renamed the Adrian Darya 1, was released from Gibraltar last month after Iran promised that it would not take its cargo of 2 million barrels of oil to Syria. 

H owever, the ship is now lurking off the coast of Syria and has turned off its transponder, raising fears among Western officials that it may deliver the oil to Syria after all.

Despite the release of the Grace 1, Iran continues to hold the Stena Impero and has given no date for its release. 

Wednesday’s announcement is the first sign of progress in the case. Abbas Mousavi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said the captain had been allowed to pick seven crew members for release under a “humane policy”.

It is not clear when they will be freed. 

"We view this communication as a positive step on the way to the release of all the remaining crew, which has always been our primary concern and focus,” said Stena Bulk, the ship’s Swedish operating company.

I ran has been slowly ratcheting up its violations of the Iran nuclear deal since July, the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran, despite European objections. 

So far, Tehran has made two relatively minor breaches. France, Germany and Britain are still trying to salvage the nuclear deal before it collapses completely but have yet to find a way to mollify Iran. 

E mmanuel Macron, the French president, has led the European initiative. In his latest effort, he offered Iran a $15 billion line of credit to compensate for lost oil sales. 

Iranian state TV reported Wednesday that Iran had rejected that offer. Mr Rouhani said progress had been made in talks with France but he was still sceptical that the deal could be salvaged. 

"If we had 20 issues of disagreement with the Europeans in the past, today there are three issues," the Iranian president said. But he added that he still did not think a final agreement would be reached.

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