Iran was merely taking back "stolen property" by capturing two Greek tankers last week, the country's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Saturday, reported DW, quoting news agencies AFP, Reuters and AP.
The ayatollah pointed to the earlier seizure of the Russian-flagged tanker Lana off Greece, when Greek officials said they would send 115,000 tons of Iranian oil to the US in accordance with the US-imposed sanctions.
"They steal Iranian oil off the Greek coast, then our brave men who don't fear death respond and seized the enemy's oil tanker," Khamenei said in a speech on Saturday.
He acknowledged that Iran took oil from the Greek vessels, but also dismissed Athens' accusations of piracy.
"Who is the pirate? You stole our oil, we took it back from you. Taking back a stolen property is not called stealing," the 83-year-old said.
What is the background to ship seizures?
Iran's Revolutionary Guards said in a statement last week that its forces had seized the Greek-flagged tankers Delta Poseidon and Prudent Warrior. Tehran said "maritime violations" had been committed, without specifying what they were.
Athens called in Iran's ambassador in protest. It said Iran's navy used helicopters to land armed men on the vessels.
The incident occurred just days after Greece said it would deliver Iranian oil seized from a Russian tanker in the Mediterranean Sea to Washington.
The latest seizures prompted comparisons with the 2019 seizure of British oil tanker Stena Impero.
It marks an escalation of tensions between Iran and the West over the series of alleged hijackings and attacks on commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz along Iran's coast. Over one-fifth of the world's oil trade passes through the Middle-Eastern naval gateway.
What Khomeini said about protests in Iran
The ayatollah commented on the international dispute and other challenges facing the country in a televised speech marking the 33rd anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
He accused the US and its allies of waging a "psychological war" against Iran and also pointed to prolonged protests after a building collapsed in southwestern Iran.
"Today, the enemies' most important hope for striking a blow at the country is based on popular protests," Khamenei said.
"But the enemies' calculation is as wrong as many earlier ones," the religious leader added.
Iranian officials have blamed the building's collapse, which killed 37 people, on corrupt local officials and lax safety standards. But protesters claim the tragedy was caused by government negligence.