US confirms seizure of Iranian oil cargo, escalating tensions in Gulf
The United States has officially confirmed the seizure of a substantial Iranian oil cargo, containing nearly one million barrels earlier this year. This action, first reported by Reuters in April, was acknowledged by the US Department of Justice on Friday.
The seized oil has become the focal point of a civil forfeiture action following the admission of guilt by the shipping company, Suez Rajan Limited, for conspiring to violate US sanctions.
The US Department of Justice termed this move as a “first-ever criminal resolution” involving a company that facilitated the illicit sale and transport of Iranian oil, coinciding with the successful confiscation of over 980,000 barrels of contraband crude oil. The operation is hailed as a successful disruption of a multimillion-dollar shipment of crude oil by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated “foreign terrorist organization” in the United States.
This revelation comes at a critical juncture when the US and Iran are in the process of finalizing a prisoner swap deal, although challenges remain concerning sanctions and Tehran’s nuclear program.
Following the seizure of Iranian oil, Washington accused Tehran of capturing several international ships in the Gulf in subsequent weeks. In August, the Pentagon announced the deployment of thousands of additional US troops to the region, with the mission to “support deterrence efforts” and safeguard crucial shipping lanes, including the Strait of Hormuz. This move provoked discontent from Tehran, which considers the interception of Iranian oil ships in international waters as piracy.
Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Nasser Kanaani, stated, “Acts of trespassing on tankers carrying Iranian oil are a clear example of piracy. Iran will not stand idly by in relation to any violation of the nation’s rights and will cut the hands of the aggressors.”
Reports from multiple sources indicate that the US began unloading the Iranian oil near Texas in August. Furthermore, US prosecutors are seeking a court order to gain possession of the oil, citing US terrorism and money laundering laws, with Iran’s inclusion on the list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts between Washington and Tehran to revive talks over the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran limiting its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, have faced significant challenges. The deal was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018, leading to Iran gradually escalating its nuclear program.
The Biden administration, while pledging to severely restrict Iran’s oil sales, has continued to enforce Trump’s sanctions, placing blame for the current impasse on the previous administration.
Add US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan remarked, “We are now trying to manage the results of that decision. And we are doing so while deterring Iran from going for a nuclear weapon. It’s something we remain vigilant about every day,” referring to Trump’s actions regarding the Iran nuclear deal.