The Trump administration has successfully seized Iranian fuel from four tankers sailing to Venezuela, increasing their “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran, a senior U.S. official confirmed for Fox News on Thursday evening.
Iran and Venezuela have tried to outmaneuver sanctions that the U.S. has placed on both countries by forming an oil partnership.
The confiscated cargo, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, was a direct violation of U.S. sanctions. A senior official clarified that the tankers were not seized but the oil is now in U.S. possession.
Federal prosecutors reportedly filed a forfeiture complaint and warrant in Washington, D.C. alleging that all “petroleum products” aboard the four vessels referred to as the Bella, the Bering, the Pandi and the Luna were a “source of influence” for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch in the Iranian armed forces.
The U.S. has designated the Guard a terrorist organization and therefore claimed that the sale of oil from Iran to Venezuela financially sponsors the The Guard and their militant actions.
President Trump has also increased U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan state-owned oil, preventing them from selling oil to other countries without in turn enduring U.S. sanctions.
The sanctions on Venezuela have meant a lack of business and investment in its oil refineries, preventing them from being able to produce oil supplies, which has left the country desperate for petroleum sources.
“The Iranian oil tankers arriving in Venezuela are nothing but a distraction from the real problems facing [President Nicolás] Maduro,” a spokesperson from the State Department told Fox News in May when the U.S. first caught wind of the shipments. “These shipments will do nothing to help Venezuelans, they will only help prop up the former Maduro regime for a little while longer.”
Venezuelan sanctions are an attempt to persuade Maduro to step down, or at the very least ensure he does not turn a profit and continue reported human rights abuses.
Iran has been undergoing U.S. sanctions as a strategy to prevent the country from investing in and developing their nuclear capabilities.
“We are two rebel revolutionary peoples that are never going to kneel before North American imperialism,” Maduro said in a televised event in May.
The four vessels stopped by U.S. officials were privately owned vessels, originally sailing as a part of nine tanker flotilla. The other five tankers were Iranian vessels escorted by the Iranian navy, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. reportedly contacted the owners of the ships before seizing the oil.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged the international community to not allow the current arms embargo placed on Iran expire come October.
“Tehran will become an arms dealer for the Maduros and Assads of the world, sworn enemies of Israel like Hamas and Hezbollah will be better armed, European nations will be put at risk,” Pompeo said referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a news conference last month.
Fox News’ Rich Edson contributed to this report.