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14 Aug, 2020 15:20

DOJ confirms ‘largest-ever US seizure of Iranian fuel’ on 4 ships bound for Venezuela

DOJ confirms ‘largest-ever US seizure of Iranian fuel’ on 4 ships bound for Venezuela

The US has seized some 1.116 mn barrels of Iranian fuel aboard 4 ships headed for Venezuela, the Justice Department has confirmed, hinting at “assistance" from "foreign partners” and declining to reveal where the grab took place.

The agency hailed what it called the largest-ever US seizure of Iranian fuel in a statement on Friday, revealing Washington had nabbed the sanctions-skirting cargo en route to Venezuela with the assistance of unspecified “foreign partners.”

The statement appeared to confirm a Wall Street Journal report, citing anonymous government and shipping sources, that claimed four tankers loaded with Iranian fuel had recently seen their cargo confiscated “without the use of military force.” The vessels were said to be re-routed to Houston, Texas, where they will reportedly be met by senior Trump administration officials.

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Iran’s ambassador to Venezuela, Hojat Soltani, rejected the Journal report on Thursday, insisting in a tweet that “the ships are not Iranian” while calling the claim about the seizures “another lie and psychological warfare from the propaganda machine of the US.”

Washington’s high-seas score stems from a July court complaint demanding the four tankers in question “forfeit all petroleum-product cargo” due to its having been shipped by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to the statement. The US designated the IRGC a terrorist organization last year at the behest of Israel as it ramped up its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. 

Since pulling out of the JCPOA nuclear deal in 2018, the Trump administration has leveled a bewildering array of sanctions against Iran, flooded the Persian Gulf with US military assets, and offered millions of dollars in bribes to Iranian ship captains to deliver their oil tankers into the hands of Uncle Sam.

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Venezuela, too, has been subjected to punishing US sanctions as Washington has struggled to install its preferred opposition candidate, Juan Guaido, in place of the country’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro. After a handful of failed coup attempts left Guaido more unpopular than ever among Venezuelans, the Trump administration’s special envoy to the nation, Elliott Abrams, was last week promoted to oversee Iran as well.

Trump confirmed in a press conference on Friday that the Iranian cargo had been diverted to Houston, though he demurred when asked what would be done with the ships once they arrived. “We’ll be announcing,” he told reporters.

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