Iran's Revolutionary Guard says it confiscated the tanker "Stena Impero" in strategic Strait of Hormuz for breaking "international maritime rules." Britain says Iran also seized a Liberian-flagged vessel.

Stena Impero says it was unable to contact the crew after its tanker was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit.
Stena Impero says it was unable to contact the crew after its tanker was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit. (fleetmon.com/twitter)

Friday, July 19

Second ship seized by Iran – UK

Britain said Iran's seizure of a British-flagged vessel and a Liberian-flagged vessel in the Strait of Hormuz was unacceptable and called for freedom of navigation in the Gulf.

"I'm extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

"I will shortly attend a COBR (national security) meeting to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels - a British-flagged vessel and a Liberian-flagged vessel," he said.

"These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region," Hunt said.

Iran says it has seized a British oil tanker

Iran's Revolutionary Guard says it has seized a British oil tanker that was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

The Guard's website, sepahnews.com, said the tanker "Stena Impero" was seized on Friday by the Guard's forces for "non-compliance with international maritime laws and regulations" and has transferred the vessel to an Iranian port.

The company that manages the vessel said it was unable to contact the crew after it was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz.

Northern Marine Management said the tanker was now heading north towards Iran. Northern Marine Group is owned by Stena AB.

Britain said it was urgently seeking further information after a British-flagged tanker took a sudden turn into Iranian waters.

Prime Minister Theresa May's office declined to comment.

Pompeo says Iran needs to 'come to the table' 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States needed Iran to "come to the table" for negotiations, amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran in the Gulf that have impacted global oil markets.

Pompeo, speaking at a counterterrorism summit in Buenos Aires, also repeated an offer from US President Donald Trump for talks without preconditions.

"The Iranians continue to say they will talk about it, but only if the United States does something.

We need them to come to the table, it's the right way to resolve these challenges," Pompeo told reporters.

Footage disproves US downed drone – Iran

Iran's state TV aired footage it said disproved US President Donald Trump's assertion that the US Navy has destroyed an Iranian drone in the Gulf.

The video published by the Revolutionary Guard showed aerial views of warships. The TV station said the drone had captured the footage and timing notations showed the drone was still filming after Washington said it had been downed in the Strait of Hormuz.

Trump said on Thursday that the drone had flown to within 1,000 yards (900 metres) of the US warship Boxer and had ignored "multiple calls to stand down."

Detention of Iran supertanker extended 

Gibraltar's Supreme Court has granted a 30-day extension to allow authorities there to continue to detain the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 until August 15.

The vessel was seized earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria.

"At a private meeting of the Supreme Court on an application by the attorney general, the court has extended the period of detention of the vessel, Grace 1, for a further 30 days and has set a new hearing for 15 August 2019," the Gibraltar government said.

All Iran's drones returned safely to base - military

Iran's top military spokesman said all the country's drones had returned safely to base, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, after President Donald Trump said a US Navy ship had "destroyed" one.

"All drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz ... returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control, and there is no report of any operational response by USS Boxer," Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior armed forces spokesman, was quoted as saying by Tasnim.

Iran has not lost any drones – deputy foreign minister

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi denied on Friday that Iran had lost a drone in the Strait of Hormuz after the United States said that a US Navy ship had "destroyed" an Iranian drone.

"We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else. I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS [Unmanned Aerial System] by mistake!," Araqchi said on Twitter, referring to a US warship in the strategic waterway.

Thursday, July 18

Iran drone destroyed - Pentagon

A US Navy ship destroyed an Iranian fixed-wing drone in a “defensive action,” escalating tensions in the Gulf after the drone came within "threatening range."

The USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, shot down the drone for flying too close to the ship in the Strait of Hormuz earlier Thursday, according to a statement by Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.

The incident took place about 10 am local time as the Boxer was transiting into the Strait of Hormuz.

“The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew,” he added.

In remarks at the White House, Trump blamed Iran for a "provocative and hostile" action and said the US responded in self-defence.

"The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran's attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce," Trump said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded by saying he was not aware of any downing of an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday after Trump said the US military had shot one down in the Strait of Hormuz.

"We have no information about losing a drone today," Zarif told reporters at the United Nations before a meeting with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Foreign tanker detained - Revolutionary Guards

Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they had detained a "foreign tanker" and its crew for allegedly smuggling fuel in the Gulf.

The tanker was seised on Sunday "south of the (Iranian) island of Larak" in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the force's Sepahnews website said.

The Guards did not detail the name or provenance of the vessel.

"With a capacity of two million barrels and 12 foreign crew on board, the vessel was en route to deliver contraband fuel received from Iranian boats to foreign ships in farther regions when it was intercepted," the force said.

The announcement comes two days after Iran said it had come to the aid of a foreign tanker after receiving a distress call – making no mention of the vessel being seized.

Wednesday, July 17

US unsure whether Iran seized tanker

US officials say they are unsure whether an oil tanker towed into Iranian waters was seized by Iran or rescued after facing mechanical faults as Tehran asserts, creating a mystery at sea at a time of high tension in the Gulf.

The MT Riah disappeared from ship tracking maps when its transponder was switched off in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14. Its last position was off the coast of the Iranian island of Qeshm in the strait.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it appeared that the tanker was in Iranian territorial waters, but it was not clear whether that was because Iran had seized it or rescued it.

The mystery comes at a time when Washington has called for greater security for ships in the Gulf.

Adding to the riddle of the missing ship was difficulty establishing who owns it, which no country or company has so far publicly claimed. Initial reports described it as Emirati. However, an Emirati official told Reuters the tanker was neither owned nor operated by the UAE.

Tuesday, July 16

UAE oil tanker goes missing

A small oil tanker from the United Arab Emirates traveling through the Strait of Hormuz entered Iranian waters and turned off its tracker two days ago, leading the US to suspect Iran seized the vessel amid heightened tensions in the region, an American defence official said on Tuesday. 

Iran offered no immediate comment on what happened to the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Riah late on Saturday night.

 An Emirati official acknowledged the vessel sent out no distress call. 

Oil tankers previously have been targeted in the wider region amid tensions between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Trump says US not seeking 'regime change' in Iran

Trump said Washington is not pushing to topple Iran's leadership but is determined to stop it acquiring nuclear weapons.

"We are not looking for regime change. We are not looking for that at all," Trump said during a cabinet meeting. "They can't have a nuclear weapon."

The United States quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions. Iran said last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal, and has also surpassed the 3 00-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.

Monday, July 15

2015 nuclear deal 'still alive'

The European Union's top Foreign Policy chief says the Iran nuclear deal is "not in the best of health, but still alive".

Federica Mogherini addressed the media on Monday after European Union nations threw their diplomatic weight behind the unraveling Iran nuclear deal on Monday, trying to rescue the pact from collapsing under US pressure.

The 28 EU foreign ministers insisted that recent Iranian actions surpassing uranium enrichment thresholds set by the 2015 deal did not necessarily condemn the whole agreement.

"We hope and we invite Iran to reverse these steps and go back to full compliance with the agreement,"

Mogherini also admitted that the EU's efforts would probably not be enough to mitigate the impact of the US's decision to withdraw from the agreement and impose sanctions on Iran.

Noting that Iran was "still a good year away" from potentially developing a nuclear bomb, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there was still a "small window to keep the deal alive."

Israel: EU's response to Iran recalls Nazi appeasement

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned a European Union response on Monday to Iran's breaches of nuclear limitations, saying it recalled failed diplomacy with Nazi Germany ahead of World War Two.

"(It) reminds me of the European appeasement of the 1930s," Netanyahu said in a video statement after EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said none of the parties to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran saw its increased uranium enrichment as "significant non-compliance".

"Then, too, there were those who stuck their head in the sand and did not see the approaching danger," said Netanyahu, who has often cast Iran's nuclear projects as a mortal menace to Israel and the wider world. 

Sunday, July 14

European powers urge dialogue in Iran nuclear crisis 

Britain, France and Germany called for dialogue and an end to the escalation over Iran's nuclear programme. 

The three key European powers expressed concern that the 2015 deal risked further unravelling but said it was up to Tehran to ensure the deal survived.

"We believe the time has come to act responsibly and seek a path to stop the escalation of tensions and resume dialogue," said the English-language version of the statement issued by the Elysee.

"The risks are such that it is necessary for all stakeholders to pause and consider the possible consequences of their actions," it added.

Iran ready to talk if US lifts sanctions - Rouhani

Iran is ready to hold talks with the US if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the 2015 nuclear deal it quit last year, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Sunday.

Trump's administration says it is open to negotiations with Iran on a more far-reaching agreement on nuclear and security issues.

But Iran has made any talks conditional on first being able to export as much oil as it did before the US withdrew from the nuclear pact with world powers in May 2018.

"We have always believed in talks ... if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere," Rouhani said in his Sunday speech.

Saturday, July 13

Iran tanker will be freed after guarantees - UK

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt sought to ease tensions with Iran, saying a tanker held by Gibraltar would be released if Tehran guaranteed it was not heading to Syria.

He said he had a "constructive call" with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, who he said assured him that Tehran "is not seeking to escalate" tensions between the countries.

"I reassured him our concern was destination, not origin of the oil on Grace One," a tanker seized off the coast of the tiny British territory of Gibraltar on July 4, Hunt tweeted.

An Iranian statement confirmed the conversation and said Hunt underlined Iran's "right to export oil".

It added that Tehran hoped that an investigation in Gibraltar into the seized ship "would lead quickly to the release of the Iranian tanker".

Friday, July 12

Gibraltar police say that all four crew members of the Iranian Grace 1 tanker have been released on bail without charge after it was detained last week on suspicion of breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

The police said earlier in the day that they had arrested the two second mates from the tanker, a day after the vessel's captain and chief officer were arrested.

It did not elaborate, but said the investigation was ongoing and that the Grace 1 continues to be detained.

Britain sends second warship to Gulf

Britain is sending a second warship to the Gulf amid growing tensions with Iran after Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar lastweek.

As part of our long-standing presence in the Gulf, HMS Duncan warship is deploying to the region, Britain said. 

Earlier Sky News reported the destroyer, which had been earmarked for deployment in the region anyway although not so soon, would sail to the Gulf in the next few days to join the frigate, HMS Montrose.

Decision to seize tanker unilateral - Gibraltar 

Gibraltar said its action last week to detain Iranian tanker Grace 1 was a decision it took on its own and not at the behest of any other state or third party, the British overseas territory's chief minister said on Friday.

“The decisions of Her Majesty’s government of Gibraltar were taken totally independently, based on breaches of existing law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations,” Fabian Picardo told Gibraltar’s parliament.

"All relevant decisions in respect of this matter were taken only as a direct result of the government of Gibraltar having reasonable grounds to believe the vessel was acting in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria," Picardo said.

"There has been no political request at any time from any government that Gibraltar should act or not act on one basis or another."

The vessel contained 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, he said.

Spain had said the tanker was intercepted by British authorities after a request from the United States.

'This is a dangerous game' – Iran to UK

Iran called on Britain to immediately release its oil tanker which British Royal Marines seized last week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state news agency IRNA.

"This is a dangerous game and has consequences ... the legal pretexts for the capture are not valid ... the release of the tanker is in all countries' interest ... Foreign powers should leave the region because Iran and other regional countries are capable of securing the regional security," Mousavi said.

Iran has warned of reciprocal measures if the tanker is not released by Britain.

Thursday, July 11

US looks at military escorts

The Pentagon said on Thursday it was discussing military escorts for vessels in the Gulf one day after armed Iranian boats threatened a British oil tanker.

The White House's nominee to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said Washington was attempting to put together a coalition "in terms of providing military escort, naval escort to commercial shipping."

"I think that that will be developing over the next couple weeks," Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Milley's statement came after London accused Tehran on Thursday of deploying three military vessels to "impede the passage" of a BP tanker, the British Heritage.

"We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region," a Downing Street spokesman said.

Iranian supertanker captain arrested

A spokesman for the Royal Gibraltar Police said officers have arrested the captain and chief officer of a Iranian supertanker suspected of breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria. 

Patrick Payas said the two are in police custody while investigations continue into the movements of the Grace 1 supertanker. He says they have not been formally charged. 

Payas did not have information about their nationalities. 

He said other crew members remain aboard the ship. 

The vessel was intercepted by the British overseas territory on the southern tip of Spain July 4. A senior Spanish official said the operation was requested by the United States. 

The EU and others have imposed sanctions on Syria's Assad regime over its continued crackdown against civilians.

Iran tried to seize British oil tanker – report

Armed Iranian boats attempted to seize a British tanker in strategic Gulf waters on Wednesday but were driven off by a Royal Navy frigate, UK said in a statement, a charge Iran denied.

The Iranians ordered the British Heritage oil tanker, which was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz area, to change course and stop in Tehran's nearby waters, CNN said, citing two American officials.

A US aircraft shot video of the incident, which ended when the HMS Montrose –– which was escorting the tanker –– trained its guns on the boats and successfully warned them to back off, the channel said.

Later, the UK government said in a statement that the Iranian vessels only turned away after receiving "verbal warnings" from a UK navy vessel.

"We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region," it said.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard denied it "impeded" British tanker in Strait of Hormuz.

Rouhani had warned Britain of "consequences" on Wednesday over the detention of one of the country's oil tankers off the coast of Gibraltar.

"I point out to the British that you initiated insecurity (on the seas) and you shall grasp the consequences of it later on," Rouhani said in comments to the cabinet broadcast by state TV.

Wednesday, July 10

Russia and Iran reject US statements at IAEA meeting

Iran and Russia on Wednesday poured scorn on America's call for Tehran to adhere to limits in a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, at a special meeting of the UN's nuclear watchdog.

The US Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna Jackie Wolcott told the meeting that Iran was engaged in "nuclear extortion".

Iran has said it will disregard certain limits under the JCPOA as long as the remaining parties to the deal - in particular the UK, France and Germany - don't do more to mitigate the impact of crippling US sanctions re-imposed after Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018.

"There is no way to read this as anything other than a crude and transparent attempt to extort payments from the international community," Wolcott said.

Her Iranian counterpart Kazem Gharib Abadi said it was a "sad irony that this meeting is convened with the request of the United States".

Abadi said the current impasse was the result of Washington's "outlaw behaviour" and condemned what he called the "sadistic tendency" of the US to impose sanctions on Iran.

Russia's Ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted after the meeting that the US "was practically isolated on this issue".

He told the assembled diplomats it was an "oddity" that the meeting had been called by the US, "the country that declared the JCPOA to be a 'terrible deal'".

"In practice, it turns out that Washington is aware of the importance of the Plan (JCPOA)," he said.

In a joint statement to the meeting, Britain, France and Germany took a nuanced position, reflecting their continued diplomatic efforts to save the JCPOA.

They said that "our continued support (for the JCPOA) relies on Iran implementing its commitments in full".

Trump warns of further sanctions

Trump accused Iran on Wednesday of secretly enriching uranium for a long time and warned that US sanctions will be increased soon, as the UN nuclear watchdog held an emergency meeting on Tehran's breach of a nuclear deal.

"Iran has long been secretly 'enriching,' in total violation of the terrible 150 Billion Dollar deal made by John Kerry and the Obama Administration. Remember, that deal was to expire in a short number of years. Sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!" Trump said on Twitter.

The United States used an emergency meeting of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency's board on Wednesday to pressure Iran over breaches of the 2015 international nuclear deal, accusing it of extortion and pledging to continue sanctions while still offering to hold talks.

US wants military coalition to safeguard Gulf waters

The United States hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, where Washington blames Iran and Iran-aligned fighters for attacks, a top US general said on Tuesday.

Under the plan, which has only been finalised in recent days, the United States would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts for the military coalition. Allies would patrol waters near those US command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation's flags.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, articulated those details to reporters following meetings on Tuesday about it with acting US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"I think probably over the next couple of weeks we'll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we'll work directly with the militaries to identify the specific capabilities that'll support that," Dunford said.

Tuesday, July 9

Trump lured by allies into killing 2015 nuclear deal - Iran

Zarif has said Trump's allies had tricked him into killing off a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.

Zarif said on Twitter that Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had killed an earlier nuclear agreement in 2005 by insisting that Iran stop all uranium enrichment.

Monday, July 8

Iran goes beyond uranium enrichment limit – IAEA

Iran has enriched uranium beyond 3.67 percent purity limit set by its deal with major powers, the UN nuclear watchdog policing the deal said on Monday, confirming a move previously announced by Tehran.

"(International Atomic Energy Agency) Director General Yukiya Amano has informed the IAEA Board of Governors that Agency inspectors on July 8 verified that Iran is enriching uranium above 3.67% U-235," an IAEA spokesman said.

A report to member states obtained by Reuters said the agency had verified the enrichment level using online enrichment monitors and samples had also been taken on Monday for analysis.

US does not seek war with Iran – Pence

US Vice President Mike Pence called 2015 Iran nuclear deal "disastrous," saying there will be no more pallets of cash for Iran.

He said US is willing to talk to Iran about its nuclear programme and does not seek war, but said US military is prepared to protect US interests, personnel in the region.

"Iran should not confuse American restraint with a lack of American resolve," Pence said in prepared remarks to a conference of the Christians United for Israel advocacy group.

"The United States does not seek a war with Iran. We are willing to talk. We are willing to listen. But America will not back down," Pence said.

There won't be a better deal than 2015 accord - Zarif

World powers will not be able to negotiate a better deal with Iran than the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted on Monday.

Iran threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity as its next potential big moves away from the agreement that Washington abandoned last year.

Zarif has in the past said that a so-called "B-team" including Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk, and conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could goad Trump into a conflict with Tehran.

Iran passes 3.67 percent uranium enrichment - AEOI

Iran has passed the 3.67 percent uranium enrichment cap set by its landmark 2015 nuclear deal and may enrich at even higher levels, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Monday according to the IRIB news agency.

"Twenty percent is not needed now, but if we want we will produce it. When we've put aside 3.67 percent enrichment, we have no obstacle or problem with this action," Kamalvandi was quoted as saying, noting that options for enriching at higher levels had been discussed with the Supreme National Security Council.

"There is the 20 percent option and there are options even higher than that but each in its own place. Today if our country's needs are one thing, we won't pursue something else just to scare the other side a little more," he said.

Increasing the number of centrifuges is an option for Iran' s third step in reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal, Kamalvandi said, noting that restarting IR-2 and IR-2 M centrifuges is an option.

The remaining European signatories to the nuclear deal should act quickly to fulfil their promises because Iran will continue reducing its commitments to the deal until it achieves a result, Kamalvandi said, according to IRIB. 

Iran must be persuaded to stick to nuclear deal - Germany

"The ball is clearly in Iran's court. We want to preserve the deal. For this, parties must stick to it," the German foreign ministry spokesman told a regular government news conference.

Asked at which point a red line would be crossed for the German government, the spokesman said: "Our objective is that Iran abides by the deal."

Russia concerned over the growing tensions

Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia is concerned by Iran's uranium enrichment, furthering its breach of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Peskov said the Kremlin had warned that Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the deal a year ago would entail negative consequences to global security. He called on all parties to use diplomacy to overcome the crisis.

Iran is open to diplomacy but has 'no hope'

Iran remains open to diplomacy to save its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers but has "no hope" in the international community, the foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday.

Abbas Mousavi said he had no information on how far Iran had taken its uranium enrichment, though a top aide to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei previously suggested Iran had a need for five-percent-enriched uranium.

"There is a lot of speculation, so we don't know," Mousavi said in response to a question from The Associated Press at a weekly news conference. 

"We will see what we need."

Japan concerned over Iran's uranium enrichment

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said Monday that Japan is "seriously concerned and closely watching" the development on the nuclear deal and increased tension in the Middle East.

Nishimura urged Iran to "immediately return to its commitment under the agreement and avoid any further steps that would undermine the nuclear agreement."

Sunday, July 7

Trump says Iran 'better be careful'

Trump warned Iran on Sunday over its imminent breach of a uranium enrichment cap.

"Iran better be careful, because you enrich for one reason, and I won't tell you what that reason is. But it's no good. They better be careful," he told reporters in Morristown, New Jersey.

The 3.67 percent enrichment limit set in the agreement is far below the more than 90 percent level required for a nuclear warhead.

Iran to face more 'isolation, sanctions' – Pompeo

Iran will face further sanctions in response to its expected breach Sunday of a uranium enrichment cap, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

"Iran's latest expansion of its nuclear programme will lead to further isolation and sanctions," the top US diplomat said on Twitter.

"Nations should restore the long-standing standard of no enrichment for Iran's nuclear programme. Iran's regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world," Pompeo said.

France demands Iran drop uranium enrichment plan

France on Sunday demanded that Iran halt any activity that breaches the 2015 nuclear accord, expressing "great concern" over Tehran's statement that it was set to breach the uranium enrichment cap set under the deal.

"We firmly demand that Iran halt all activities that do not meet its commitments under the JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)," foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muehll said in a statement.

"France is in contact with its partners involved to engage in the necessary de-escalation of tensions as part of the Iranian nuclear issue," the statement said.

EU 'concerned' at Iran's decision

The European Union on Sunday strongly urged Iran to stop actions that would undermine a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, saying it was in touch with other parties to the deal and may set up a joint commission to look into the issue.

"We are extremely concerned at Iran's announcement that it has started uranium enrichment above the limit of 3.67 percent," spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

"We strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its commitments ..."

Germany alarmed at Iran's decision

Berlin reacted with alarm to Iran's announcement that it would enrich uranium beyond levels allowed in its 2015 nuclear deal.

"We strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its commitments," a German foreign office spokesman said, naming production of larger quantities of low-enriched uranium as well as enrichment to higher levels than allowed.

"We are in contact with the other JCPoA participants regarding the next steps," Berlin added, referring to the 2015 agreement between Iran and six world powers including Russia, Germany, Britain, and France.

'Stop and reverse' plan to breach nuclear deal

Britain urged Iran to "immediately stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its obligations," hours after Tehran threatened to abandon a landmark nuclear agreement in 60 days. 

"While the UK remains fully committed to the deal, Iran must immediately stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its obligations," the British Foreign Office said in a statement. 

"We are coordinating with other JCPoA participants regarding the next steps under the terms of the deal," it added.

Detained oil tanker wasn't headed to Syria – Iran

Iran denied that an oil tanker detained by Britain in Gibraltar was carrying crude to Syria, which would put it in violation of EU sanctions.

"The tanker was carrying Iran's oil... Contrary to what the British government claims, its destination was not Syria," said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi at a press conference in Tehran.

"The port named in Syria does not even have the capacity for such a supertanker to dock. Its destination was somewhere else," he added.

The 330-metre (1,000-feet) Grace 1, capable of carrying 2 million oil barrels, was halted in the early hours of Thursday by police and customs agencies in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory on Spain's southern tip at the western entrance to the Mediterranean.

France will not launch dispute resolution

The French government will not trigger the Iran nuclear deal's dispute resolution mechanism for now, instead of giving itself one week to try to get all parties talking again after Iran decided to enrich uranium above limits agreed in 2015.

"It's not an option at this moment," a source at President Emmanuel Macron's Elysee office said on Sunday. 

The dispute resolution mechanism could eventually lead to the reimposition of United Nations sanctions on Iran.

Iran's enrichment move a 'very, very dangerous step'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran's decision to enrich uranium was an extremely dangerous move and he again called on Europe to impose punitive sanctions on Tehran.

"This is a very, very dangerous step," Netanyahu said in public remarks to his cabinet.

"Iran has violated its solemn promise under the UN Security Council not to enrich uranium beyond a certain level," he said.

Iran set to exceed nuclear deal uranium enrichment cap

Iran said on Sunday it was set to breach the uranium enrichment cap set by an endangered nuclear deal within hours as it seeks to press signatories into keeping their side of the bargain.

Tehran also threatened to abandon more commitments unless a solution is found with parties to the 2015 agreement.

Rouhani's order to exceed the threshold would be implemented "in a few hours" after the last technical details were sorted, Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said live on state television.

Rouhani initially flagged Tehran's intentions on May 8, exactly a year on from Trump unilaterally abandoning the multilateral deal.

He has said the move is in response to a failure by remaining state signatories to keep their promise to help Iran work around biting sanctions reimposed by the US in the second half of last year.

Araghchi on Sunday singled out Iran's declining oil sales as one of the main issues that needed to be solved, or Tehran would further step back from its commitments.

"We hope we can reach a solution otherwise after 60 days we will take the third step as well," he said, without specifying what the further measures would involve.

France warns of consequences

Macron told Rouhani of his "strong concern" over the risk of weakening the nuclear agreement and the consequences that would follow during a telephone call Saturday, according to a statement from the Elysee Palace.

However, the two leaders agreed to "explore by July 15 the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties", the statement said, adding that Macron would consult with Iranian authorities and international partners to bring about the "necessary de-escalation" of the situation over the coming days.

It is not yet clear how far the Islamic republic will boost enrichment.

But a top advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hinted on Friday it could reach five percent.

UN nuclear inspectors to report on enrichment move

Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog, who are in Iran, will report back once they have checked that Tehran has enriched uranium to a higher level of purity than that allowed under its nuclear deal, the agency said on Sunday.

"We are aware of Iran's announcement related to its uranium enrichment level," a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

"IAEA inspectors in Iran will report to our headquarters as soon as they verify the announced development." 

The 2015 deal was reached between Iran and six world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, the United States and Russia – and saw Tehran agree to drastically scale down its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Washington withdrew from the deal and began reimposing sanctions in August 2018 and has targeted crucial sectors including oil exports and the banking system, fuelling a deep recession.

The 3.67 percent enrichment limit set in the agreement is sufficient for power generation but far below the more than 90 percent level required for a nuclear warhead.

Rouhani has stressed that Iran's action would be reversed if the other parties provided relief from the US sanctions, insisting his country's policies are not meant to "hurt (the deal), but to preserve" it.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies