“The End” for the Tanker Crisis?

September 12, 2019

Two days ago, the Guardian reported that White House national security adviser John Bolton “an ultra-hawk on foreign policy who under George Bush was a key architect of the invasion of Iraq in 2003” was fired by President Trump.

Iran’s rulers must have been pleasantly surprised.

On July 20, Simon Tisdall had said the following in the Guardian:

“… when Bolton heard British Royal Marines had seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar on America’s Independence Day, his joy was unconfined. “Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions,” he exulted on Twitter.

“Bolton’s delighted reaction suggested the seizure was a surprise. But accumulating evidence suggests the opposite is true, and that Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident. The suspicion is that Conservative politicians, distracted by picking a new prime minister, jockeying for power, and preoccupied with Brexit, stumbled into an American trap.”

Adrian Darya 1 (formerly Grace 1) was released on August 15 after reportedly receiving formal written assurances from Tehran that the ship would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria.

On September 7, three days before his dismissal, Mr. Bolton tweeted a satellite image which appeared to show the recently renamed Adrian Darya 1 off the coast of Tartus. “Anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn’t headed to #Syria is in denial,” Bolton said on Twitter.

As expected, the tanker later unloaded its oil in Tartus.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab summoned the Iranian ambassador to the Foreign Office.

In a statement the Foreign Office said, “Iran repeatedly gave assurances to the Government of Gibraltar that the Grace 1/Adrian Darya 1 would not deliver oil to any EU-sanctioned entity in Syria or elsewhere. It is now clear that Iran has breached these assurances and that the oil has been transferred to Syria and Assad’s murderous regime… Iran’s actions represent an unacceptable violation of international norms and the UK will raise the issue at the United Nations later this month. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: Iran has shown complete disregard for its own assurances over Adrian Darya 1…”

The statement refers to “international norms” but not to “international law”. Actually, the detention of the Iranian tanker on the basis of EU sanctions was in itself a violation of both since EU sanctions are not UN sanctions and are binding only for EU member states. Moreover, what if the tanker had been carrying Russian flag? Would “Gibraltar authorities” still detain it? Probably not.

It seems that although the US put Adrian Darya 1 on its sanctions blacklist, Washington and London concluded that further action against the tanker would have no legal basis but only heighten tensions in the Gulf. In other words, blaming Tehran for not living up to its commitments, presenting it as an untrustworthy partner has turned out to be the only option to put this episode behind. As for Sterna Impero, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said hopefully the procedures will be completed and the tanker will be released soon.

John Bolton’s dismissal has rekindled speculation regarding the prospect of a meeting between Presidents Rouhani and Trump during the UN General Assembly. Secretary of State Pompeo obviously delighted to see John Bolton leave the White House reiterated that Mr. Trump has no preconditions to meet with Iran but added that the US is not abandoning its maximum pressure campaign.

As Washington’s NATO allies are struggling to save the JCPOA, President Erdogan triggered a discussion regarding Ankara’s thoughts/intentions on achieving nuclear weapons capability. Whether this was a reflexive response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that if reelected, he will apply sovereignty over all settlements in Judea and Samaria starting with the Jordan Valley or the announcement of a well-thought-out new policy remains to be seen.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was opened to signature in 1968. More countries, among them Turkey, have ratified the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement, a testament to the Treaty’s significance as the UN says.

Turkey participated in the Korean War as part of a United Nations coalition. This paved the way for Turkey’s becoming a member of NATO in 1952. The Alliance remains our principal political/security institutional link to the West. And, despite ups and downs, our close relations with the West have kept us on the democratic path. A decade ago, Turkey was mentioned as a role model for Middle East peoples yearning for democracy. Is it possible that decade later Iran, if not North Korea, may have become our role model?


About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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