Iran slams US for barring Zarif from New York hospital visit

In this image taken from aboard a Royal Navy Wildcat helicopter patrolling the Gulf as part of the International Maritime Security Construct, shows the MV Stena Impero, background, as it sails from the port at Bandar Abbas, Iran, after being released by Iranian officials Friday Sept. 27, 2019. Iran on Friday released the British-flagged oil tanker it had seized in July 2019, while the country’s president, returning from an annual United Nations meeting, said he had been told the United States had offered to lift sanctions if Tehran returned to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. (Dan Rosenbaum/British Royal Navy via AP)
FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2019, file photo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, arrives for the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters. Iran on Saturday criticized the United States for what it called an “inhumane” decision to bar its foreign minister who was attending the U.N. summit meetings in New York from visiting a hospitalized Iranian diplomat in the city. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, speaks with advisor to the supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati, at Mehrabad airport pavilion upon arriving in Tehran from New York, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly, Iran, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. Rouhani said U.S. sanctions on his country are "more unstable than ever." (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
In this image taken from aboard a Royal Navy Wildcat helicopter patrolling the Gulf as part of the International Maritime Security Construct, shows the MV Stena Impero as it sails from the port at Bandar Abbas, Iran, after being released by Iranian officials Friday Sept. 27, 2019. Iran on Friday released the British-flagged oil tanker it had seized in July 2019, while the country’s president, returning from an annual United Nations meeting, said he had been told the United States had offered to lift sanctions if Tehran returned to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. (Dan Rosenbaum/British Royal Navy via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran slammed on Saturday the United States for what it called an "inhumane" decision to bar its foreign minister, who was attending the U.N. summit meetings in New York, from visiting a hospitalized Iranian diplomat in the city.

U.S. authorities were not allowing Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit U.N. ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi who was undergoing cancer treatment in a New York hospital. In July, the U.S. restricted Zarif's movement to just six blocks in New York.

The U.S. State Department said it would allow the hospital visit request only if Iran released one of several U.S. citizens it is currently "wrongfully detained."

The official IRNA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi as saying the U.S. had taken humanitarian issues "hostage" for political causes.

The spat comes amid heightened tension between Tehran and Washington following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision over a year ago to unilaterally pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran. The U.S. has imposed sanctions that have kept Iran from selling its oil abroad and have crippled its economy. Iran has since begun breaking terms of the deal.

The tensions have included seizures of oil tankers at sea. On Friday, Iran released a British-flagged oil tanker it had seized in July as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all oil passes.

The ship, the Stena Impero, set sail from Iran Friday morning, arriving at an anchorage outside Dubai's Port Rashid in the United Arab Emirates just before midnight. It was expected to head into port early Saturday afternoon. The tanker's Swedish-based ship-owning company Stena Bulk said the crew would disembark in Dubai for medical checks and debriefing, and to spend some time with their families.

The Stena Impero's seizure came after authorities in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, seized an Iranian supertanker carrying $130 million in crude oil on suspicion it was breaking European Union sanctions by taking the oil to Syria. Gibraltar later released the tanker, then called the Grace 1, after it said Iran promised the ship wouldn't go to Syria.

Renamed the Adrian Darya 1, the ship later sat off the Syrian coast, angering Britain. Iran hasn't said who purchased its 2.1 million barrels of crude oil.

Britain responded to Iran's release of the Stena Impero on Friday by accusing Tehran of trying to disrupt freedom of navigation.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the ship "was unlawfully seized by Iran" and that the action was "part of a pattern of attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation. We are working with our international partners to protect shipping and uphold the international rule of law."

The Persian Gulf tensions have also seen a series of attacks across the Middle East that the U.S. blames on Iran. They reached their height on Sept. 14, with a missile and drone attack on the world's largest oil processor in Saudi Arabia and an oil field, which caused oil prices to spike by the biggest percentage since the 1991 Gulf War. While Yemen's Iranian-allied Houthi rebels claimed the assault, Saudi Arabia says it was "unquestionably sponsored by Iran."

Iran denies being responsible and has warned any retaliatory attack targeting it will result in an "all-out war."

____

Elena Becatoros in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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