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Monday December 16th, 2019 5:07AM

The Latest: Europe talking with Iran, dispute tool an option

By The Associated Press
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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The Latest on U.S.-Iran tensions (all times local):

12:25 a.m.

A European diplomatic official says that talks at all levels with Iran are in progress. But the official says if nothing changes, they could decide to trigger a dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 nuclear accord that could ultimately result in the re-imposition of sanctions.

The official said on Thursday that talks with Tehran are aimed at de-escalating dangerously rising tensions, and buying time toward unwinding the crisis. The official asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The official insisted there's still room to work to de-escalate even though this week Iran surpassed limits set on stockpiled low-enriched uranium and President Hassan Rouhani said that starting Sunday Iran will start enriching uranium to "any level ... we need."

The official said the dispute resolution mechanism, which entails a progression of talks, could be triggered "maybe sooner, maybe later." If nothing changes, "I don't know how we can avoid it."

--Elaine Ganley in Paris

___

7:10 p.m.

Iran has summoned the British ambassador after authorities in Gibraltar intercepted a super tanker believed to be breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil.

In a Thursday tweet, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry Abbas Mousavi said Rob Macaire was summoned over the "illegal interception" of the ship.

Spain's caretaker foreign minister said the tanker was stopped by British authorities following a request from the United States.

Gibraltar's port and law enforcement agencies, assisted by Britain's Royal Marines, boarded the Grace 1 early Thursday, authorities on the British overseas territory at the tip of Spain said in a statement.

The tanker was carrying Iranian crude oil to war-ravaged Syria.

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3:45 p.m.

Spain's caretaker foreign minister says a tanker stopped off Gibraltar and suspected of taking oil to Syria was intercepted by British authorities after a request from the United States.

Josep Borrell told reporters in Madrid on Thursday that Spain is assessing the implications of the operation because the detention took place in waters it considers its own.

The British overseas territory at the tip of Spain said the port and law enforcement agencies, assisted by the Royal Marines, boarded the Grace 1 early Thursday.

Gibraltar's government says the vessel was believed to be headed to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria, a government-owned facility under the control of Syrian President Bashar Assad and subject to the EU's Syrian Sanctions Regime. A statement didn't say where the Gibraltar authorities got that information.

Britain insists Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom but Spain argues that it is not.

___

2:40 p.m.

One of the largest Iran-backed militias in Iraq is criticizing an order by the prime minister to incorporate the militias into the military and place them under the army's command.

A statement issued by the Hezbollah Brigades, or Kataeb Hezbollah, did not address whether the group would abide by Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi's orders issued this week. It suggested, however, that "criminalizing the mujahedeen" and harming them directly or indirectly may hurt "those elements supporting the security effort."

The group, which has close ties to Iran, says the government's foremost responsibility is to remove what it described as U.S. occupation forces and their business affiliates, which constitute a "major threat" to Iraqi security.

The U.S. maintains military bases and more than 5,000 troops in Iraq.

___

2:30 p.m.

Iran's intelligence minister says any negotiations with the United States would have to be approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and would require the lifting of U.S. sanctions.

Khamenei has until now ruled out talks with the United States, saying it cannot be trusted.

On Thursday, the official IRNA news agency quoted Information Minister Mahmoud Alavi as saying "if the supreme leader permits, negotiations between Iran and the United States will be held." He added, however, that Tehran would not negotiate under pressure.

Tensions have escalated since President Donald Trump withdrew America from Iran's nuclear deal last year and restored heavy sanctions. The U.S. has recently moved a carrier group, bombers and fighter jets to the Persian Gulf, and last month Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone.

12:50 p.m.

The government of Gibraltar says it has detained a large tanker that is believed to be breaching European Union sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to war-ravaged Syria.

In a statement, authorities on the British overseas territory said port and law enforcement agencies, assisted by the Royal Marines, boarded the Grace 1 super tanker early Thursday.

It added that the vessel was believed to be headed to the Banyas Refinery in Syria, which is part of an entity subject to the EU's Syrian Sanctions Regime. The EU and others have imposed sanctions on President Bashar Assad's government over its continued crackdown against dissent. They currently target 270 people and 70 entities.

Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, says he has informed the EU about developments.

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