Britain this week has rejected an Iranian offer to swap each other's captured tankers, as the crisis involving the British-flagged Stena Impero and the Iranian oil filled Grace 1 previously captured by Royal Marines off Gibraltar on July 4 has remained deadlocked.
Most observers agree it's virtually a "foregone conclusion" that the tankers will ultimately be traded for one another, however, UK officials are still stalling over what they say are the norms of international law.
“There is no quid pro quo,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab asserted on BBC radio. “This is not about some kind of barter. This is about the international law and the rules of the international legal system being upheld and that is what we will insist on.”
In boarding the Grace 1 on July 4 just as it sought to enter the Mediterranean, British authorities claimed to have thwarted illegal EU sanctions busting related to Syria, as the Grace 1 was reportedly bound for the Syrian port of Baniyas to offload some 2 million barrels of oil to the fuel-starved, war-torn country. Leaders in Tehran accused the UK of simply doing America's bidding, however.
Last Wednesday Iran's president initially suggested an equal good faith swap of sorts. He proposed that should the UK release the Grace 1, Iran would do likewise and immediately release the Stena Impero.
"If Britain steps away from the wrong actions in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran," Rouhani said Wednesday addressing a weekly cabinet meeting. The words came the same day Britain had reportedly sent a mediator to Iran seeking to negotiate the ship's return and its 23 detained crew members.
Meanwhile, the longer the standoff over the captured tankers ensues, the greater potential for military conflict amid an increased build-up of US and UK forces in the Gulf, with Britain's second major warship arriving this week to escort British-flagged tankers through the Strait of Hormuz.