The US Department of Justice confirmed for the first time in more than five months this Friday that Washington had seized an Iranian cargo containing more than one million barrels of oil early in April, months after Reuters reported the seizer.
In a statement issued this Friday, the US Department of Justice announced that Reuters news agency’s report this past April about the role of the Biden administration in seizing a cargo containing nearly one million barrels of Iranian oil was in fact true.
According to the statement by the US Justice Department, “the oil was the subject of a civil forfeiture action and the shipping company operating the oil-carrying vessel, Suez Rajan Limited, is pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate US sanctions”.
“This is the first-ever criminal resolution involving a company that violated sanctions by facilitating the illicit sale and transport of Iranian oil and comes in concert with a successful seizure of over 980,000 barrels of contraband crude oil,” the statement further noted.
More tensions between Washington and Tehran again?
The announcement comes at a time when the US and Iran are on track of concluding their prisoner swap deal. Last month in August, the White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said during a press conference that a prisoner swap deal between the United States and Iran is “on track”.
“We believe that things are proceeding according to the understanding that we’ve reached with Iran,” Sullivan told reporters back then. “I don’t have an exact timetable for you because there are steps that need to yet unfold. But we believe that that remains on track,” he added. Sullivan’s remarks came less than two weeks after Tehran moved five detained US citizens to house arrest.
There are also reports indicating that the two countries might soon reach to an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program and the US sanctions.
NBC News, for example, reported this Friday that Tehran has chosen to slightly decelerate its enrichment work, though its stockpile of nuclear fissile material continues to expand.
“According to two sources familiar with a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has slowed down the rate at which it is enriching uranium to 60% purity, only a step away from the 90% grade needed to build nuclear weapons. The move serves as a political signal to Washington that Tehran might be ready to negotiate a new nuclear deal,” the report said.
However, and despite the slight moves by both sides to hopefully de-escalate tensions, the report of the US direct involvement in the seizure of the Iranian oil cargo could now signal a new period of conflicts and rising tensions between the two sides.
It was indeed the first ring of the chain of recent tensions between Tehran and Washington. In July, Iranian state news media said the Guards’ navy commander had warned that Tehran would hold Washington responsible if the tanker’s oil was unloaded, without giving further details.
But after the tanker began to steam toward the United States last spring, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz to retaliate, prompting the US to increase its military presence in the Persian Gulf.
Back in April, the Pentagon announced that it was sending thousands of additional US troops to the region to help “support deterrence efforts” and protect shipping lanes, including the Strait of Hormuz, prompting anger from Iran, who believed that seizing Iranian property in international waters amounts to piracy. “Acts of trespassing on tankers carrying Iranian oil are a clear example of piracy,” Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Nasser Kanaani said back then.