The Latest: Iran says it helped a tanker with tow to harbor

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Emmanuel Bonne, Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, shakes hand with French presidential envoy Emmanuel Bonne, as they pose for photos, in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, July 10, 2019. France sent Bonne to Tehran to urge Iran to return to complying with the terms of the deal “without delay.” (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on tensions in the Persian Gulf amid a crisis between the United States and Iran (all times local):

5:30 a.m.

Iran’s state-run media is quoting the country’s Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the Islamic Republic helped an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz amid U.S. concern that Tehran seized one there.

The state-run IRNA news agency early Wednesday quoted Abbas Mousavi as saying Iran towed an unnamed vessel to harbor after it suffered a technical malfunction.

However, both the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates, where the tanker is based, say that the vessel hasn’t been in contact with its owner since its transponder turned off late Saturday night.

A U.S. defense official told The Associated Press that America “has suspicions” Iran seized the vessel amid tensions between Tehran and Washington over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

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7:05 p.m.

An Emirati official says a small oil tanker that’s based in the United Arab Emirates offered no distress call before switching off its tracker over two days ago in the Strait of Hormuz.

The comment Tuesday comes a U.S. defense official told The Associated Press that America “has suspicions” that Iran seized the vessel. Tehran hasn’t commented on the apparent disappearance of the MT Riah.

The Emirati official said the tanker “did not emit a distress call.”

The official added: “We are monitoring the situation with our international partners.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing security matter.

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By Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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6:20 p.m.

A U.S. defense official tells The Associated Press that America “has suspicions” that Iran seized an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates that turned off its tracker over two days ago in the Strait of Hormuz.

The official said Tuesday that the MT Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.

The official says: “Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That’s a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact . it’s going to be a concern.”

The official said that the boat had yet to contact its owners or UAE authorities.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the matter did not directly involve U.S. interests.

— By Jon Gambrell.

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4:50 p.m.

A noted French academic working with a French-Iranian researcher arrested in Iran says he last heard from Fariba Adelkhah on June 12 — when she may already have lost her freedom.

Jean-Francois Bayart told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday that she responded to his email “in a strange way.” He said he later understood “she wasn’t the writer of this mail or she wrote it under constraint.”

An Iranian judiciary spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that Adelkhah, 60, was arrested a day after France’s Foreign Ministry announced it.

France wants consular access to her “without delay” and President Emmanuel Macron said Monday he would press Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani for information.

The arrest comes as Macron tries to calm rising tensions over an unraveling 2015 nuclear deal.

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3:05 p.m.

China has called the Iran nuclear deal “irreplaceable” and the sole way to resolve the concerns over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Tuesday that “the complete and effective implementation of the agreement is the only viable and effective way to settle the Iranian nuclear issue and ease tensions.”

He said that Iran’s commitment to the agreement should be dealt with by the joint commission that oversees it.

Geng also blamed the United States for causing the current tensions — last year, the Trump administration pulled out of the deal and re-imposed economic sanctions on Tehran.

Geng said the U.S. should stop exerting pressure on Iran and create the conditions for a political and diplomatic settlement of the issue.

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2 p.m.

Iran’s top leader says his country will retaliate over the seizure of an Iranian tanker by British authorities.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the seizure of the ship “piracy” in a televised speech Tuesday, saying: “God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response.”

The Iranian supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, was seized with the help of British Royal Marines earlier this month off Gibraltar.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain will facilitate the release the ship if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel will not breach European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. Tensions have soared in the Persian Gulf over the past year as the Trump administration has ramped up sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

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1:40 p.m.

Tracking data shows an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates traveling through the Strait of Hormuz drifted off into Iranian waters and stopped transmitting its location over two days ago, raising concerns about its status amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S.

It’s not immediately clear what happened to the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Riah late on Saturday night.

However, Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the tanker hadn’t switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE.

Raja said: “That is a red flag.”

Iranian officials haven’t said anything publicly about the ship, nor have officials in the UAE. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees Mideast waters, declined to immediately comment.

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12:35 p.m.

Iran has confirmed it arrested a female researcher with dual French-Iranian nationality.

The confirmation came during a press conference by Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili on Tuesday. Esmaili was asked by reporters about the fate of Fariba Adelkhah.

Esmaili said “the person is among suspects who were recently arrested” and that more details about the case would be announced later. That’s according to the website of the judiciary.

France on Monday said it was seeking information about Adelkhah and demanded consular access to her “without delay.”

Iranian opposition websites based abroad have said she disappeared in June in Tehran. Iran occasionally detains dual nationals on security charges.

Iran also holds Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, arrested in April 2016 on charges of plotting against the Iranian government. Her family denies the allegations.

Iran doesn’t recognize dual nationality.

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11:20 a.m.

Iran’s foreign minister has suggested in an interview his country’s ballistic missile program could be on the table for negotiations with the U.S. — if America stops selling arms to its Gulf allies in the Mideast.

Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments came in an NBC News interview that aired Monday night.

Iran long has maintained its ballistic missile program, under the control of its Revolutionary Guard, is for defensive purposes only. The 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers did not include its missile program.

Zarif says American weaponry “is going into our region, making our region ready to explode. So if they want to talk about our missiles, they need first to stop selling all these weapons.”

Iran long has criticized U.S. arms sales in the region.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations later called Zarif’s comments “hypothetical.”

It added: “Iran’s missiles … are absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period.”

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