TEHRAN – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei acknowledged on Saturday that Iran stole the oil from two Greek tankers in helicopter strikes in the Persian Gulf last month.
The seizures were in retaliation for Greece’s role in the US seizure of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker in the Mediterranean that same week for violating Washington’s tough sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
“They steal Iranian oil off the Greek coast, then our brave men, not fearing death, react and seize the enemy’s oil tanker,” Khamenei said during an 80-minute speech marking the death anniversary of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini : “But they use their media empire and extensive propaganda to accuse Iran of piracy.”
“Who is the pirate? You stole our oil, we took it back from you. Taking back a stolen property is not considered theft,” he added.
The seizures exacerbated tensions between Iran and the West, already simmering over Iran’s disrupted 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran has been enriching more uranium, closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before, raising concerns that negotiators will not find a way back to the deal and raising the risk of a major war.
Iran’s seizure of the tankers was the latest in a series of hijackings and explosions that have ravaged a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow estuary of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil flows flows. The incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal under which Tehran drastically curtailed its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The US Navy blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers in 2019 and a deadly drone strike on an Israel-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021.
Iranian hijackers also briefly stormed a Panama-flagged tarmac tanker off the United Arab Emirates last year and briefly seized and detained a Vietnamese tanker.
Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a larger shadow war between Iran and the West has been playing out in the region’s choppy waters. Tanker seizures have been included since 2019, when Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero after the UK detained an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar. Iran released the tanker months later when London also released the Iranian ship.
Iran also seized and held a South Korean-flagged tanker for months last year amid a dispute over billions of dollars in frozen assets Seoul owns.
Satellite images analyzed by AP on Wednesday confirmed that one of the two tankers remained off the coast of the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Planet Labs PBC imagery Tuesday showed the Prudent Warrior between Bandar Abbas and the Iranian island of Qeshm near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the narrow estuary of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of the world’s oil trade flows.
It remained unclear where the second ship, the Delta Poseidon, was located.
Talks in Vienna about the nuclear deal have stalled since April. Since the deal’s failure, Iran has operated advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran has enriched enough, to 60% purity — a short technical step from a 90% weapons-grade level — to produce a nuclear weapon if it so desires.
Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, although UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program until 2003.
Khamenei, who has the last word on all state affairs, also accused the US of supporting recent protests in Iran, which were sparked by price increases and the government’s cuts in subsidies, in his speech on Saturday. Teachers also demonstrated for weeks for better pay and working conditions.
The value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has been weakening for years but has recently fallen to new lows, reflecting growing concerns about Iran’s economy.
Khamenei criticized what he called decades of US opposition to the nation and said Washington pinned its hopes on such protests. Khamenei, 82, said Iran’s enemies are trying to pit Iranian citizens “against the Islamic system” through psychological warfare, the internet and financial support.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/04/supreme-leader-acknowledges-iran-took-oil-from-greek-tankers/ The Supreme Leader admits that Iran has obtained oil from Greek tankers