LONDON (Dispatches) -- Britain has offered to return a seized Iranian tanker if Tehran provided guarantees that the oil would not go to Syria.
The offer appeared to be an effort to cool down relations between the two countries and appease Tehran after the Islamic Republic warned London of consequences if it did not release the tanker.
The dispute between Britain and Iran broke out a little more than a week ago when the British military seized an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar. Britain said it suspected the tanker was heading to Syria, in violation of European Union sanctions, but Iran has denied it.
Tehran called the seizure an act of piracy, saying Britain was acting at the behest of Washington and threatened to retaliate in kind.
In apparent attempt to forestall a further escalation, Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign minister, said on Twitter on Saturday that he had held a "constructive call” with his Iranian counterpart.
"I reassured him our concern was destination, not origin, of the oil” on the seized ship, Hunt said. He added that he had also said Britain would "facilitate release” of the ship "if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process” in the Gibraltar courts.
Hunt said in a second tweet that Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif had responded "that Iran wants to resolve issue and is not seeking to escalate”.
Ali Rabiei, an Iranian government spokesman, said British authorities would release the ship because "the tanker's destination was not what the British announced". Iranian officials had earlier denied the ship was bound for Syria.
A day earlier, Iran had reiterated its demands that the British navy release the tanker, accusing London of playing a "dangerous game".
The tanker's interception came on the heels of already high tensions in the Persian Gulf as the Trump administration continues its campaign of maximum pressure on Iran.
The U.S. has also sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East in recent weeks.
The Iranian supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, was seized by British Royal Marines earlier this month off Gibraltar, a piece of territory near the southern coast of Spain.
In recent days, Hunt has called for "cool heads" to prevail to ensure there is no "unintended escalation".
In their telephone conversation, Zarif made it clear for his UK counterpart that Tehran will keep on exporting oil under any conditions, urging London to secure the release of Iran’s oil tanker as soon as possible.
Zarif reiterated that Iranian supertanker Grace 1 has been unlawfully seized by the UK in the international waters off the coasts of Gibraltar. "The Islamic Republic of Iran will keep exporting oil under any circumstances,” he said.
Grace 1 was bound for a legal destination in eastern parts of the Mediterranean, the top Iranian diplomat underscored.
"The European Union, which has always opposed the extraterritorial imposition of U.S. sanctions, cannot take such measure itself, and the UK government must immediately make the necessary arrangements to end the illegal confiscation of the Iranian oil tanker,” Zarif added.
He further touched upon the case of Nazanin Zaghari and the others detained in Iran on charges of violating national security.
"The arrest and trial of these individuals have been in accordance with completely legal processes, and the UK government is expected to respect the enforcement of law and the independence of the Judiciary in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
A senior Spanish official had said the interception was carried out at the request of the United States.