- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Lawmakers are pressuring President Biden to combat Iran’s threats against American companies that take Iranian oil from a U.S.-seized tanker off the coast of Texas.

Domestic energy companies reportedly refused to offload 800,000 barrels of Iranian oil worth over $60 million from a Greek tanker confiscated by the U.S. in April for sanction violations. The reason is fear of retribution by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Mr. Biden, Republicans and Democrats from both chambers demanded information about how the administration plans to resolve the tense situation and better combat future terrorist threats against private U.S. citizens and companies.

“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 bipartisan lawmakers wrote.

The Greek tanker was seized at sea around the southern tip of Africa by the U.S. in what marked the latest escalation between Washington and Tehran before being anchored off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. said the vessel violated oil sanctions against Iran for its nuclear weapons program.

The letter was organized by GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York. It was backed by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Don Davis of North Carolina; Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee; and GOP Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Max Miller of Ohio.

In a statement to The Washington Times, Ms. Ernst accused Mr. Biden of having “doubled down on his posture of appeasement, allowing Iran to increase funding for their terrorist activities and emboldening the IRGC to intimidate American companies in our own waters.”

“Make no mistake, Americans should not have to live in fear of Iranian retaliation,” she said. “President Biden must answer for Iran’s increased aggression and enforce the laws against Iran’s illicit activity.”

The White House declined to comment and referred The Times to the Justice Department. The DOJ also declined to comment.

The latest alarm bells from the lawmakers comes after the Biden administration’s deal with Iran to free five detained Americans in exchange for unfreezing $6 billion in assets and freeing an unknown number of Iranians imprisoned in the U.S.

Republicans have criticized the move as emboldening and funding Iran’s terrorist activities, in addition to endangering more Americans.

Iran‘s state-owned media quoted a senior commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps last month as saying the country would retaliate against any oil companies that offload the seized oil.

The fear of consequences has prompted U.S. energy companies to refuse to touch the oil, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Iran responded in a tit-for-tat to the tanker’s seizure in April by confiscating a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker in the Gulf of Oman. Iran has a history of seizing commercial vessels in the Middle Eastern region.

The lawmakers’ letter asked for a national security threat assessment and information about the administration’s next steps.

“The American people deserve to know that their government will protect their lives and livelihoods and will deter any attempts by foreign adversaries and terrorists to intimidate their support for U.S. law enforcement activities,” they wrote.

Once offloaded, the U.S. would sell the oil and use 75% of the profits for the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, which compensates survivors and claimants of the 9/11 massacre, the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and other terror attacks. Since 2019, the U.S. has seized over $200 million in Iranian oil through its counter-Islamic Revolution Guards Corps program and is on track to provide over $123 million to the terrorism victim fund since 2020, according to the lawmakers.

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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