Lawmakers push Obama to sanction countries for abetting Iranian ships

Lawmakers want President Obama to use the bill he signed into law last week that authorized stiffer sanctions on Iran to target the countries that are aiding and abetting Iranian ships.

House Foreign Affairs ranking member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) sent letters to the Obama administration calling for penalties against the ship registries for the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu and Tanzania after they were re-registering oil tankers owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) in an effort to dodge sanctions.

In the two letters sent Tuesday, Kirk and Menendez urged Obama to issue sanctions against the registries of both countries, while Berman pressed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to penalize just Tuvalu after Tanzania said Sunday it would de-register the Iranian ships carrying oil.

Both Tuvalu and Tanzania use private companies to register ships under their flags, and those companies would be the target of the U.S. penalties.

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The new sanctions were part of the bill that Obama signed into law Friday, which tightened sanctions against Iran’s energy, shipping and insurance sectors.

Berman said he wanted the administration to use “the new law to take aggressive action to change Tuvalu’s policy of abetting Iran in evading U.S. sanctions.”

Tuvalu confirmed in a statement last month that it had registered 22 NITC ships, but the tiny island nation argued that the NITC ships were not sanctioned by the United Nations and would be used only for oil to countries exempted by U.S. sanctions.

Tanzania said it was de-registering 36 ship that had been re-flagged by a shipping agent in Dubai without the country’s knowledge, Reuters reported, after lawmakers raised questions to Tanzania about NITC ships changing their names and flags.

Berman, Kirk and Menendez did not specify what punitive measures should be taken, saying that should be left up the administration.

The moves by NITC to try to re-flag its ships with Tuvalu and Tanzania are the latest in a cat-and-mouse game where Iran tries to evade U.S. sanctions. The new laws are designed to try to make it tougher for Iran to skirt the economic penalties that were passed in an effort to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear program.