A bipartisan group of US Senators are pushing the Biden administration for stricter enforcement of Iran’s oil sanctions, as the country’s exports reach a five year high.
In a letter to President Biden Thursday, 18 Senators from both parties demand maximum efforts to “prevent illicit trade in Iranian oil,” which provides the regime with funds necessary to support its proxies.
“In the wake of the October 7 terror attacks and subsequent attacks by Iran-backed proxies on U.S. forces in the Middle East, we urge you to work harder to stop Iran’s funneling of lucrative oil exports to finance terror,” the Senators told President Joe Biden.
The letter comes right after a similar initiative by 62 House members, who stressed that ongoing attacks on US troops in the Middle East clearly show whatever is being done is not enough and more pressure must be applied on Tehran.
Significantly, both letters have been signed by some Democrats, as well as the more critical Republicans.
Senate Democrats seem to have lost patience with Biden’s unwillingness to effectively enforce sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. They have joined their Republican colleagues to suggest immediate sanctions against ships and even foreign ports that carry Iranian oil.
They point out that the Iranian regime has taken in at least $88b from their oil exports since February 2021, compared to just $5b when former president Trump’s “maximum pressure” was still in place.
Iran now exports oil more than any time in the past five years, according to Japan’s influential daily Nikkei, with as much as 90% of the total exports going to China. This is confirmed also by United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which tracks Iranian oil exports.
"While global supply routes have been seriously affected by the Houthi attacks, Iran’s oil trade, especially to its number one importer, China, has continued unabated,” reads UANI’s latest report.
President Biden has been under growing pressure to reverse its policy on Iran since Hamas’ rampage of Israel –which many believe would have not been possible without the backing of the Iranian regime. The pressure has grown even further after last weekend’s deadly attack on American soldiers by Iran-backed militia Iraq.
“You cannot continue to embolden Iran,” Senator Marsha Blackburn said in an interview with Fox News Thursday. “You cannot continue to let them sell their oil and make billions of dollars, and then put that money into building nuclear warheads through uranium enrichment and through funding terrorism.”
Officials from the Biden administration say no Iran sanction has been lifted under their watch. But “enforcement” is as important as the actual sanctions. And it’s on the question of enforcement that the current administration seems to have disappointed many, even Democratic senators.
But what Biden critics want from him may not be readily achievable –not in 2024, at least.
"[Biden] prioritizes low oil prices, especially in an election year," says Robert McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group and a former senior White House policy official. "If [Biden] did crack down, it would impact global balances and prices, especially if Iran retaliated by threatening [Persian] Gulf production and export flows."
And then there’s China: Iran’s main customer which happens to be a global superpower. China can always find a way to get around the sanctions. It needs to: to keep feeding its gargantuan economy.
“Ultimately, China has and will continue to develop sanctions-proof entities which are not connected to the US financial system and won't be hurt (much) by sanctions,” former state department advisor on Iran Gabriel Noronha posted on X. “Leverage has to come from other files - as with recent China negotiations, find pressure everywhere."