But MEA officials have reacted with caution to the latest assurance

Iran has signalled its inclination to bury the hatchet in its feud with India over the detention of an Indian oil tanker, and expressed its keenness to expand energy ties.

Iran’s Fars News Agency (FNA) quoted Deputy Minister for Roads and Urbanisation Seyed Ataollah Sadr as saying Tehran and New Delhi were close to an agreement on the fate of the tanker, intercepted in the Persian Gulf last month.

“The negotiations are yielding results” and if India’s shipping line and the relevant insurance company give a written guarantee, “the vessel can continue its route,” FNA quoted Mr. Sadr as saying.

But officials in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reacted with caution to the latest assurance. “We have been hearing similar things from the day the tanker was detained. They asked for damage payment and we agreed. Then they raised the issue of surety and we agreed to that too. Now they have come up with this technical point. Let us see what happens,” they said. Reports have linked Iranian action to the detention of an Iranian ship in Mumbai for the last two years, suggesting that this was Tehran’s way of getting back at New Delhi. MEA sources suggest Iran has never officially linked the two cases. New Delhi has found it difficult to accept Iran’s suggestion of transferring money from a rupee account for importing its oil to pay the ship’s creditors on whose complaint a worldwide red corner notice was issued and the vessel detained.

“We could not have overlooked their advisory to detain the ship because satellite photos clearly reveal its destination,” they said. On the other hand, MEA officials say satellite photos showed the Indian ship was in the clear but the Iranians are using the same logic that was relied upon by India to detain its ship — that the advisory to detain Desh Shanti came from a regional maritime organisation.

Separately, Iran’s newly appointed Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh called for broadening energy ties with India. Iran’s Oil Ministry website quoted him as saying that there are “good grounds for development of relations in the oil and gas sector between Iran and India.” Mr. Zanganeh made these observations during a meeting on Sunday with India’s ambassador to Iran D.P. Srivastava.

Despite the conciliatory signals emerging from Iran, Mr. Sadr put the onus of the delay in the release of the ship on the Shipping Corporation of India and the insurers. He said the Indian insurance company should financially compensate for the environmental damage that the ship had caused in Persian Gulf waters — a view that New Delhi rejects.

Iran’s Director-General for Maritime Pollution Affairs at the Department of the Environment, Nima Pourang had said the Indian tanker was detained because it discharged its oily ballast water 48 km away from the Lavan Island in the Persian Gulf, causing a 16 km oil slick on the sea.

The detention of the Indian ship seems to have emerged as an irritant in Indo-Iran ties, which both sides have so far been unable to defuse. There are 32 seafarers including 13 officers on board the vessel detained by Iranian guards at Bandar Abbas port since August 13.

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