Iran's illegal oil trade has boomed under the Biden administration, with the hardline regime selling more than $44 billion worth of its heavily sanctioned oil to malign regimes like China, Syria, and Venezuela, according to figures published by a watchdog group.
From January 2021, when President Joe Biden took office, to June 2022, Iran sold around $44.7 billion in oil primarily to China. The regime's export revenues between March 2021 and March 2022 from oil, gas, and related products "totaled $39 billion, compared [with] $22 billion for the previous year—a rise of 77 percent and an extra $17 billion," according to United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), a watchdog group that tracks Iran's network of illegal oil tankers.
"This drastic increase in revenue is not surprising when you look at the increase in oil exports that have occurred under the Biden administration," UANI chief of staff Claire Jungman told the Washington Free Beacon. "This is the result of terminally lax sanctions enforcement."
In addition to looser sanctions on Iran, the Biden administration has turned a blind eye to enforcement as it seeks to ink a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal. These moves are meant to appease Iran and cajole it into signing a deal that will remove virtually all sanctions on the hardline regime, including its oil trade. China is the primary beneficiary of this policy, with Iranian oil imports quadrupling to the country in 2021 to $23.1 billion. The China-Iran oil pipeline is on pace to hit around $27 billion in 2022, according to UANI's figures.
If sanctions on Iran are lifted as part of a new nuclear deal, Iran-China trade could reach around $60 billion per year, according to one former U.S. official.
"China made a mockery of the credibility of our sanctions programs and emboldened rogue actors across the world to follow suit," Gabriel Noronha, a State Department special adviser for Iran during the Trump administration, told the Free Beacon.
Iran's foreign currency reserves— which were nearly drained under the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign—will have "increased nearly tenfold by the end of this year," according to Noronha.
"The United States refused to enforce its sanctions even while Iran was continuing to advance its nuclear program and its regional terror attacks," Noronha said. "The result was that Iran's economy revived itself."
This financial relief gave Iran a cushion and lessened pressure that could have forced it into accepting a more stringent nuclear deal.
"The Iranian leadership does not feel pressure to finalize the nuclear deal because they've already enjoyed the benefits of effective sanctions relief," Noronha said. "The fact that the Biden administration can't even manage a return to the notoriously weak [nuclear deal] is evidence of the sheer diplomatic malpractice carried out by the Biden administration, particularly Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. envoy for Iran Rob Malley."
As Iran and China boost their oil alliance, the U.S. emergency crude stockpiles dropped to their lowest levels in 37 years. This comes after the Biden administration agreed to sell China several million barrels from the U.S. stores, sparking a congressional investigation.
In July, Iran sold 746,915 barrels of oil per day to China, according to UANI.
Under pressure from watchdog groups like UANI, the Biden administration is beginning to issue new sanctions on Iran's oil trade.
The State Department announced on Monday that it is "designating six entities" for their role in "facilitating illicit transactions related to Iranian petroleum."
The administration says it is committed to reviving the nuclear deal, but will issue sanctions until the agreement is signed.
"The United States has been sincere in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)," the State Department said, referring to the 2015 deal by its official name. "Until Iran is ready to return to full implementation of the JCPOA, we will continue to use our sanctions authorities to target exports of petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products from Iran."
UANI's Jungman said the new sanctions are a good first step, but that "there are many gaps that need to be filled." The administration still has not designated several oil tankers known to be ferrying illicit Iranian oil.
"Without designation on the vessels, the tankers will just register under new companies and continue to assist Iran in exporting its oil," she said.
Noronha says these sanctions have come too late.
"China took advantage of the Biden administration's weak posture and blatantly flouted our sanctions on Iran for over 16 months before the United States made any attempt to stop the trade," he said.
The State Department says that it continues to engage China diplomatically as part of its efforts to crack down on its oil partnership with Tehran.