Iranian Vessels Now Sailing in Atlantic Ocean
TEHRAN -- An Iranian destroyer and support vessel are now sailing in the Atlantic Ocean in a rare mission far from the Islamic Republic, a senior military commander said on Thursday.
The trip by the new domestically built destroyer Sahand and the intelligence-gathering vessel Makran comes amid U.S. media ballyhoo, citing anonymous American officials, saying the ships were bound for Venezuela.
The vessels departed last month from Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas, said Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, Iran’s deputy army chief. He described their mission as the Iranian navy’s longest and most challenging voyage yet.
Iranian national TV released a short clip of the destroyer cruising through the Atlantic’s rough seas. The video likely was shot from the Makran, a converted commercial oil tanker with a mobile launch platform for helicopters.
“The Navy is improving its seafaring capacity and proving its long-term durability in unfavorable seas and the Atlantic’s unfavorable weather conditions,” Sayyari said, adding that the warships would not call at any country’s port during the mission.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said “that if this is an effort to transfer weapons or otherwise to violate its international obligations we would be prepared to respond.”
“We have seen the press reports regarding this movement,” Price said. “We’re prepared to leverage our applicable authorities, including sanctions, against any actor that enables Iran’s ongoing provision of weapons" to other parties.
During a news conference May 31, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, “Iran is always present in international waters and it has this right based on international law and it can be present in international waters.” “No country is able to violate this right, and I warn that no one makes miscalculations. Those who sit in glass houses should be careful.”
The United States cannot take direct action under international law against the two Iranian ships even if the vessels are violating U.S. sanctions, leading American magazine Foreign Policy wrote Thursday.
The U.S. has warned Venezuela and Cuba to reject two Iranian ships that it claimed to be carrying arms intended for transfer to Caracas.
In its article, Foreign Policy argued that any U.S. action against the vessels would be unlawful and undermine sovereign immunity as a core tenet of the international order.
“The costs of direct action would be severe, exposing the United States to charges of hypocrisy toward the rules-based order and potentially opening U.S. naval vessels to similar treatment by adversaries,” the American news publication said, arguing that the United States should “employ diplomacy rather than force” and encourage states along the route to deny the Iranian vessels port access if requested.
It added that in times of peace, sovereign immunity is a practically all-powerful ward against a foreign state’s jurisdiction, with exceptions only in extreme circumstances involving failed states, fake warships, or weapons of mass destruction. “This case, however, is textbook.”
While Tehran has not commented on the ships’ destination nor their cargo, it has pointed out that there is no ban on Iran’s sale of weapons to other countries under UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
“America has long tried to get the resolution violated [by others], but to no avail,” Ali Rabiei, the Iranian administration’s spokesman, said at a weekly press conference on Tuesday, making a reference to Washington’s failed attempts last year to keep a 13-year-old arms embargo on Iran, which finally expired on October 18.
Foreign Policy pointed to the UN Convention’s Article 5, which reads: “Warships on the high seas have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the flag State,” arguing that even in the territorial sea, sovereign immunity remains a powerful protection and that warships enjoy the right of innocent passage in foreign territorial seas.
“As long as the warship is engaged in innocent passage, not threatening the coastal state, the coastal state can, at most, order the warship to leave the territorial sea,” it said. “Interdiction or arrest are out of the question unless the warship threatens the coastal state, at which point self-defense would be permitted. ”
The article maintained that nothing changes even if U.S. officials ascertain the vessels are carrying conventional arms that violate U.S. sanctions on Caracas, and so long as the Iranian warships do not threaten use of force, sovereign immunity protects them wherever they are.
The Foreign Policy article also noted that even if an attempted enforcement action by the U.S. succeeds both operationally and legally, it could put U.S. naval vessels around the world in jeopardy.