The Biden administration is blocking authorities from seizing ships carrying sanctioned Iranian oil, a move lawmakers say helps fund the hardline regime's terrorist activities.
The Department of Homeland Security says it has been unable to seize tankers carrying sanctioned oil for a year, thanks to "policy limitations" enacted by the Treasury Department. This has contributed to the 35 percent increase in Iranian oil exports over the past year, according to a bipartisan group of lawmakers demanding the Biden administration rectify its contradictory approach.
"United States sanctions should be enforced to the fullest extent of the law," a group of 12 senators led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), wrote to President Joe Biden in April. "As Iranian oil sales continue to rise, and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] continues to target U.S. citizens and service members, including inside the U.S., it is imperative that we use all available government assets to limit the activities of the Iranian regime."
The bipartisan support for the letter signals that members of both parties are increasingly frustrated by the Biden administration’s soft approach towards Tehran. Iran has sold nearly $50 billion worth of oil since the Biden administration took office and began relaxing sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s illicit oil trade as part of efforts to cajole the hardline regime into inking a new nuclear deal.
Crude oil is a primary source of revenue for Iran’s hardline regime, fundings its massive regional terrorism enterprise helmed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a paramilitary fighting force that has killed hundreds of Americans.
In the April letter, Ernst and her colleagues—including Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (I., Ariz.), and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.)—say the Biden administration is preventing the Department of Homeland Security’s Investigations unit from targeting Iranian ships, "despite several credible leads" that the vessels violated sanctions.
Ernst, the lead signatory on the letter, says the White House’s misguided diplomacy puts Americans at risk.
"Enforcing these sanctions actually hits the Iranian regime where it hurts: their own wallets lined with oil money that funds terrorist activities against Americans both abroad and in the homeland," Ernst told the Washington Free Beacon. "That requires empowering our federal agents to enforce the law."
The Biden administration has only imposed eight sanctions on Iran, a significant downswing from the dozens imposed during the Trump administration, according to data reviewed by the Free Beacon. Iran has mostly disregarded these sanctions, selling its historically cheap oil everywhere from China to Syria and into Latin America. Lawmakers say Iran can only be deterred through strict sanctions enforcement that directly confronts Iran.
While the Homeland Security seizures unit has been allocated millions in funding, the administration has chosen not to spend this money, according to the lawmakers. "The failure to support HSI’s Iranian oil seizure and disruption operations … despite available funds, is a policy choice that must be reversed," they wrote.
The Biden administration’s stance also hinders victims of Iranian terrorism. Since 2019, the United States has sold oil from seized Iranian ships and invested the profits in a fund for American victims of terrorism.
"It is unacceptable that a U.S. government program, which makes the United States and its allies safer, provides funds to remediate the victims of terrorism, and generates income for the United States in a cost-effective manner has been allowed to languish," the lawmakers noted in their letter.
Iran, meanwhile, has stepped up its terrorism operations in international waters, seizing two oil tankers at the end of April.