August 16th, 2023

by Ryan King

A bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers pressed President Biden Wednesday to resolve a delay in transferring hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil off a seized Iranian tanker that has been anchored off the Texas coast for months.

The Suez Rajan was commandeered by US authorities earlier this year while transferring sanctioned Iranian oil to Singapore.

The vessel has sat near Galveston since late May.

Though it has been cleared for unloading by the Coast Guard, no US company appears willing to do so out of apparent fear of harassment by Iranian forces in the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.

“No American citizen or company should ever fear retaliation from [a foreign terrorist organization] for assisting in law enforcement activities or engaging in lawful commerce,” the lawmakers wrote to Biden.

The Suez Rajan is carrying 800,000 barrels of oil valued at an estimated value of $56 million.

Under US law, 75% of profits from the oil sale would be deposited in the US Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism Fund, which compensates victims and survivors of atrocities including the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks and the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis.

“Recently, the Special Master of the Fund has determined that there are insufficient assets to authorize an additional round of payments in 2024 to the 15,769 Americans registered with the fund,” the lawmakers wrote. “Furthermore, the Congressional Research Service reports that there is a current estimated outstanding balance of more than $105 billion. We owe it to these American families to enforce our sanctions and more aggressively close this gap.

“Permitting the months-long delay in the seizure and transfer of the oil aboard the Suez Rajan, will further delay the federal government’s ability to help make American victims of terrorism whole via USVSST funds. This is unacceptable.”

Last month, a senior Iranian navy official warned that Tehran would retaliate against any company that offloads the tanker.

Approximately 20 foreign merchant vessels have reportedly been harassed or seized by Iran over the past two years.

“We request that you work expeditiously to resolve the delay in the transfer of seized oil from the Suez Rajan and continue to enforce the law against Foreign Terrorist Organizations, such as the IRGC,” the lawmakers warned, using the acronym for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, part of Iran’s armed forces. “The enforcement of petroleum sanctions will become irrelevant if American citizens and companies involved live in fear of Iranian retaliation.”

The letter’s signatories included Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), as well as Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Don Davis (D-NC) and Max Miller (R-Ohio).

The letter follows reports of an agreement that would give Iran access to $6 billion in assets from oil money that had been frozen in South Korea in exchange for freeing five American detainees.

The US would also release an unknown number of Iranian detainees as part of the deal.

“The administration has signaled that the release of these detainees is part of a broader negotiation with respect to reinstating some controls on the nuclear weapons and enrichment programs,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” over the weekend.

Under the Obama administration, the US reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement with Iran that provided sanctions relief in exchange for restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program.

President Donald Trump left the deal in 2018 and slapped sanctions back on the Islamic Republic.

Last month, the US military announced it would dispatch additional ships and Marines to the Middle East to counter Tehran’s recent attempts to seize ships.

See the full article from the New York Post here.