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Crimea ready for transit of Iranian oil after tanker seizure

This file photo by Sputnik shows a seaport in Sevastopol, Crimea.

Deputy Prime Minister of Crimea Georgy Muradov says Iran can use the Russian territory’s ports for transit of oil which is the target of unilateral US sanctions.

British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar last month, apparently on the order of the United States which has pledged to bring Iran’s crude oil exports down to zero.

The ship, laden with 2 million barrels of oil, was released after a five-week standoff which saw a US federal court order to seize the vessel again rejected by Gibraltar.

Iranian oil tankers traditionally use the Suez Canal to reach the country’s oil customers in the Mediterranean, but the tanker's seizure showed more trouble might be on the way. 

Tehran has warned the United States of “heavy consequences” if it tries to detain Iranian vessels, but Washington is likely to use its client states again to cause trouble.

On Tuesday, Muradov suggested that Tehran use Iranian ports in the Caspian Sea to forward oil to Russia. Crimea, he said, is ready “to fruitfully cooperate with Iran and consider different options”.

“For example, Iran can take advantage of our port capacities for oil carriage," Muradov told Russia’s Tass news agency.

Iran and Russia have yet to implement an oil-for-goods scheme originally signed in 2014 and extended for five more years, which calls for Iranian crude exports of up to 500,000 barrels per day in return for Russian goods.

A tentative arrangement calls for swapping around 300,000 barrels per day of Iranian crude oil via the Caspian Sea and the rest from the Persian Gulf.

Under a swap deal, Iran can receive the Russian oil at Crimean ports and ship it to the Black Sea and further to the Mediterranean.

"Iran can use our shipping capabilities, river-sea canals in this situation and carry oil over the Volga-Don canal, via Crimea, to the Black Sea," Muradov said as he touched on US sanctions on Tehran.

Muradov stated that cooperation between Iran and Crimea was rising in the wake of US pressures.

"Mutual interest in cooperation between Iran and Crimea is growing, especially considering the anti-Iranian policy of the US, sanctions introduced against this country and related consequences,” he said.

“Certain Iranian businessmen show interest in working in Crimea, although we do not see obvious active work from the Iranian side.”

He said there is a plenitude of other areas for potential cooperation because Iran "is a very diverse country in economic terms".

"We are exploring opportunities so far in spheres being the most interesting for us. We say we are ready to cooperate with Iranian businessmen coming to us and showing activity. Representatives of the business and financial sector of this country have already visited Crimea," Muradov said.

In June, Iran and Russia signed a dozen cooperation agreements covering energy, railway, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and tourism, with senior officials stressing the political will of the two countries to reinforce ties in the face of US sanctions. 

The agreements were signed as Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak visited Iran with a delegation of 120 businesspeople, including representatives of private and public companies.   

“Both Iran and Russia are affected by illegal sanctions. It is hoped that the sanctions can be used as an opportunity to expand ties and increase cooperation,” Iranian energy minister Reza Ardekanian said, stressing that there is “political will” on both sides to do that.

Novak described Iran and Russia as “good neighbors”, saying both are determined to strengthen their cooperation.

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