01.31.22

Lankford, Colleagues Demand Biden Enforce Sanctions on Iranian Oil Tankers

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) along with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and eight of their Senate colleagues sent a letter to President Joe Biden demanding that he enforce mandatory sanctions against the growing fleet of oil tankers selling Iranian oil and against the entities purchasing this oil, including in China. President Biden has so far refused to take action against the sharp rise in Iranian oil exports and has instead engaged in talks with the Iranian regime on a pathway to re-enter the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiated by the Obama Administration.

In part, the Senators wrote, “The vessel owners and their customers in China are taking greater risks because they believe that your administration is too weak and indecisive to punish them for their crimes. Your unwillingness to take actions that could jeopardize the doomed Vienna nuclear talks has undeniably emboldened these criminals. Meanwhile, the boom in oil sales has refilled the Iranian regime’s once-empty coffers, removed crucial American leverage over Iran, and encouraged the Iranians to stall negotiations in Vienna and irreversibly advance their pursuit of a nuclear weapon. It is long past time to stop your dithering. You are putting US national security at risk." 

“We urge you to enforce US sanctions against entities that purchase Iranian oil and against those foreign-flagged oil tankers which keep Iran’s illicit oil trade alive. Each day you delay gives Iran more money to finance their terrorist activity and more time to develop a nuclear weapon. We would also remind you that sanctions against Iran’s oil exports are mandatory and passed Congress with bipartisan majorities. You are not above the law and must stop violating it,” the Senators continued.

Last year, Lankford introduced the Iran Sanctions Preservation Act, which would maintain the sanctions imposed by President Trump targeting the Iranian oil industry, financial sector, and supporters of terrorism until Iran suspends its nuclear program, terrorist financing, and other destabilizing activities.

Lankford and Cotton were joined by Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Braun (R-IN), and John Cornyn (R-TX).

Full text of the letter is HERE and below.

Dear President Biden, 

We write to urge you to take action against the growing fleet of oil tankers evading US sanctions and against the entities purchasing Iranian oil from these tankers.

As you are aware, Iran’s energy sector is a primary source of funding to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated foreign terrorist organization. Because of its critical role in funding terrorism, the National Iranian Oil Company is subject to US terrorism sanctions.  Therefore, enforcing oil sanctions against Iran is also enforcing terrorism sanctions against Iran. Bipartisan laws enacted by Congress in 2011 and 2012 targeting Iran’s oil exports and energy sector require the President to enforce these sanctions.

The US maximum pressure campaign seriously reduced Iranian oil exports and curtailed the Iranian regime’s ability to finance terrorism and other malign activities. From April 2018 to June 2020, Iranian oil exports shrank from nearly 2.9 million barrels per day to 600,000 barrels per day. Tehran faced severe budget deficits in 2019 and 2020 due to the decline in oil sales. This massive drop in revenue gave the United States significant leverage over Iran and impeded the regime’s strategic ambitions. 

These gains have been threatened by the disturbing rise in Iranian oil exports since your administration began, despite US sanctions remaining in place. Iran exported an estimated 418 million barrels of oil in 2021, 123 million more than in 2020. Twice in 2021, Iranian oil exports exceeded 1.4 million barrels per day, the highest rate since March 2019.  Three-quarters of this oil was exported to China, which purchased 310 million barrels of Iranian oil last year. In recent weeks, the Chinese government has openly acknowledged importing millions of barrels of Iranian oil for its strategic petroleum reserves. 

As a result of this surge in oil sales, Iranian currency reserves soared from just $4 billion at the end of 2020 to $31 billion at the end of 2021. These Chinese purchases give the Iranian regime a vital lifeline and flout US sanctions with impunity. While your administration has reportedly warned China and other countries about the sanctions risks to their companies, these entities remain unpunished.

Iran’s increased oil exports are only possible because non-Iranian, foreign-flagged vessels are increasingly willing to risk US sanctions to sell Iranian oil. Much of this activity is done illicitly, with foreign-flagged tankers transferring oil at sea from Iranian tankers to obscure the origin of their illegal cargo. These vessels avoid sanctions by hiding behind shell companies and often flying a false flag. Other such vessels turn off their satellite transponders, change their flag, or register under the flag of a country where maritime authorities are willing to look the other way. The number of foreign-flagged tankers suspected of involvement in the transport of Iranian oil has more than doubled from 70 vessels in November 2020 to 165 vessels in January 2022. This fleet will only continue to grow if your administration keeps refusing to crack down on this practice.

The vessel owners and their customers in China are taking greater risks because they believe that your administration is too weak and indecisive to punish them for their crimes. Your unwillingness to take actions that could jeopardize the doomed Vienna nuclear talks has undeniably emboldened these criminals. Meanwhile, the boom in oil sales has refilled the Iranian regime’s once-empty coffers, removed crucial American leverage over Iran, and encouraged the Iranians to stall negotiations in Vienna and irreversibly advance their pursuit of a nuclear weapon. It is long past time to stop your dithering. You are putting US national security at risk.

We urge you to enforce US sanctions against entities that purchase Iranian oil and against those foreign-flagged oil tankers which keep Iran’s illicit oil trade alive. Each day you delay gives Iran more money to finance their terrorist activity and more time to develop a nuclear weapon. We would also remind you that sanctions against Iran’s oil exports are mandatory and passed Congress with bipartisan majorities. You are not above the law and must stop violating it. 

The radical mullahs in Iran will only abandon their nuclear ambitions when they believe time is no longer on their side. Decisive action by your administration can stop the regime’s malign activity; more concessions and polite expressions of impatience are not going to cut it.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,