Iran says alleged US oil seizure violates prisoner swap

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on August 29, 2023, shows a general view of phase 11 of the South Pars gas field in Asaluyeh port in the southwestern Bushehr province ahead of its inauguration. (Photo by Iranian Presidency / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran–Iran on Monday accused the United States of seizing its oil from a tanker and warned the alleged move violates a prisoner swap deal between the two foes.

The Islamic republic said on August 10 that it had transferred five Americans from jail to house arrest in the first step of the prisoner exchange agreement.

But it linked the deal to what it alleged was the United States' seizure of an oil tanker that had been sailing off the US coast in April under the Marshall Islands flag.

"We have witnessed the imposition of new sanctions and the seizure and offloading of the oil cargo," foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani told reporters in Tehran.

"This non-constructive approach is not compatible with the US messages sent showing readiness for direct dialogue and contradicts the agreement on the exchange of prisoners," he added.

In response, he said, the foreign ministry had summoned the charge d'affaires of the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests in Iran, to protest the alleged seizure.

The prisoner swap agreement is expected to lead to the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue that has been held in South Korea under US sanctions.

All the detained Americans involved are of Iranian descent, but Tehran does not recognise dual nationality and has had adversarial relations with Washington since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The five inmates are among at least a dozen Western prisoners held in Iran on various charges.

Among them is Jamshid Sharmahd, a German-Iranian national sentenced to death in Iran over a deadly blast at a mosque in 2008 in the southern city of Shiraz.

His daughter met with US officials in Washington last week and asked for their help to pressure Iran to spare his father from death row.

Kanani criticised the meeting, saying it was "in conflict with the legal responsibilities of the US government" as it was a case involving a "convicted terrorist".