Senior Biden administration officials pledged in sworn testimony to Congress they would robustly enforce sanctions on Iran. More than one year after these promises, Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) says there is mounting evidence the officials lied to Congress.
Nicholas Burns, U.S. ambassador to China, and Ramin Toloui, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, were both pressed during their Senate confirmation hearings late last year on Iran sanctions enforcement. In sworn written testimony to Cruz, copies of which were obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, Burns and Toloui vowed to uphold sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade and pressure China on the matter.
Since their confirmation last year, however, Iranian oil sales to China and other countries have skyrocketed, jumping 40 percent and sparking accusations that the Biden administration is turning a blind eye to sanctions enforcement as it works to ink a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal. With Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly united in opposition to a new deal, the promises by Burns and Toloui are under renewed scrutiny. Cruz and his colleagues suspect these officials never intended to uphold sanctions and misled Congress in order to win their confirmation.
"The new agreement President Biden hopes to finalize with the Ayatollah would open up vast new weapons markets to Putin and more energy for Xi’s expansion, all while injecting billions of dollars for terrorism around the Middle East and beyond," Cruz told the Washington Free Beacon. "President Biden and Biden-Harris officials are feverishly appeasing Russia, China, and Iran—and those countries are then allying together to collectively undermine American interests."
One senior congressional Republican aide, speaking only on background about the matter, said, "It's increasingly clear that Biden officials will say and do anything to get confirmed, but then they all implement Biden's fringe anti-American, pro-China, pro-Iran agenda. No wonder the administration has zero credibility with Congress or anyone else."
Burns, who was confirmed by the Senate in mid-December, positioned himself as a sanctions enforcer who would pressure China to wind down its purchases of Iranian oil.
"China has long been importing Iranian oil, and the administration will continue to oppose Iranian sanctions evasion efforts, including those involving Chinese entities," Burns wrote to Cruz on Oct. 20 in sworn testimony. "The administration will continue to raise this issue directly with the Chinese as part of its dialogue on Iran policy and I agree that, in general, this is a more effective path forward to address our concerns."
"If confirmed," Burns said, "I will engage vigorously with China to discourage them from taking steps vis-a-vis Iran that threaten our interests."
Toloui offered similar assurances.
"I expect the administration to continue to oppose Iranian sanctions evasion efforts, including those involving Chinese entities. If confirmed, I will work with others in the administration to raise this issue with the Chinese as part of a dialogue on Iran policy," Toloui told Cruz on Oct. 26, prior to his confirmation in mid-December.
Evidence indicates these promises were not upheld.
From 2020 to 2021, Iranian oil exports increased by 123 million barrels, or 40 percent, according to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which closely tracks Tehran's armada of illegal oil tankers. China was by far the top importer and continues to purchase illicit Iranian crude.
In January, after both officials were confirmed, China announced for the first time in more than two years that it is violating U.S. sanctions by importing Iranian oil.
"Up until now, the U.S. has been notably reluctant to enforce its own oil sanctions against China, but the administration has also had an excuse not to act because ‘officially’ Beijing was not importing," UANI officials wrote at the time. "In plainly declaring its willingness to violate the most critical aspect of the U.S. sanctions architecture, China is probing President Biden’s seriousness and testing American commitment to enforcing its own oil sanctions."
The Biden administration has made clear that all sanctions on Iran’s oil sector will be removed as part of a new nuclear agreement, which is likely to emerge in the coming weeks.