Iran and the United States have given contrasting accounts of an incident involving an oil tanker in the Sea of Oman last week.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) said on Wednesday they had thwarted an attempt on October 25 by the US Navy to seize the vessel carrying its oil. Later, a Pentagon spokesperson later called the Iranian explanation “totally false and untrue”, saying “the only seizing that was done was by Iran”.
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In a statement on its website Sepahnews, the IRGC had said US forces had seized the tanker and “transferred its cargo to another tanker”, and then directed it to an “unknown destination” before the Iranian naval forces intervened.
The IRGC’s naval forces, with air support, subsequently captured the second tanker, thwarting a second attempt by the US Navy to retake the vessel, according to the statement.
“The tanker carrying Iran’s oil docked at the port of Bandar Abbas on October 25,” it added.
Separately, the IRGC released a highly edited video showing its naval division taking over the ship.
US officials, however, said that in reality, Iranian forces had seized a Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker last month, and US naval forces were just monitoring the situation.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, who has extensively reported on Iran, said the timing of the IRGC statement was noteworthy as it came on the eve of the anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. On November 4, 1979, students seized the facility in the Iranian capital and held more than 50 US citizens hostage for 444 days.
“The government clearly want to send a message to the Americans that they are the strongest force in the region and that they are not scared by the US presence in the Sea of Oman or in the Strait of Hormuz,” Jabbari said.
The development came amid faltering efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers that would see a lifting of US sanctions on its oil exports. Negotiations with the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear agreement are scheduled to resume at the end of November.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has warned repeatedly that time is running out to reverse the US withdrawal from the deal ordered by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Washington is not directly participating in the talks but is taking part through European Union intermediaries.
Trump’s abandonment of the agreement and reimposition of sweeping economic sanctions prompted Iran to suspend many of the commitments it made in return for the lifting of the sanctions.
Western governments issued a joint statement on Saturday expressing “grave” concern about Iran’s production of highly enriched uranium, which they said met “no credible civilian need”.
Iran retorted that the output was “for medical supply and for use as fuel in the Tehran research reactor”, and reiterated its readiness to resume talks – which have been on hold since before President Ebrahim Raisi’s election in June.