WASHINGTON — The United States has seized greater than 1.1 million barrels of Iranian gasoline that was headed to Venezuela, officers mentioned on Friday, in a high-seas handover that blocked two diplomatic adversaries from evading American financial sanctions.

The switch of gasoline from 4 Greek-owned ships, occurring over the previous a number of weeks, risked igniting a tit-for-tat response from Iran. This week, an Iranian navy unit briefly boarded a tanker within the Gulf of Oman in what a number of American officers described as a present of drive — and, doubtlessly, Tehran’s efforts to reclaim any of its gasoline that could be on the ship.

American officials said the four tankers — the Bella, the Bering, the Pandi and the Luna — have been boarded with out drive after diplomatic and authorized stress was introduced to bear in opposition to a Greek delivery magnate, George Gialozoglou.

American officers wouldn’t describe how the high-seas intercepts occurred apart from to say U.S. navy ships weren’t concerned. A warrant dated July 1 that accredited the operation mentioned the gasoline could possibly be secured by American authorities personnel, contractors or others appointed by the court docket.

Several weeks in the past, after being knowledgeable that the gasoline shipments would violate American sanctions in opposition to Iran, U.S. officers mentioned Mr. Gialozoglou agreed to allow American authorities to take the gasoline.

Prosecutors said income from the National Iranian Oil Company have helped fund Tehran’s elite navy unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which helps Shiite militias within the Middle East and has been designated a terrorist group by the Trump administration.

“Iran’s not supposed to be doing that,” President Trump informed reporters on Friday.

Iran denied it had any relation to the seized gasoline and accused the United States of waging a “psychological war” in opposition to the nation. The Trump administration introduced the switch operation the identical day it was pushing the United Nations Security Council to prolong an arms embargo in opposition to Iran, a vote the United States misplaced.

“Neither the ships are Iranian nor their owners or their cargo has any connection to Iran,” Hojat Soltani, Iran’s ambassador to Venezuela, said Thursday on Twitter, after the seizure information was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. He referred to as the announcement a “big lie.”

Over the previous two years, because the Trump administration repeatedly positioned sanctions on Iran’s oil and different profitable industries, Tehran has been shut out of worldwide markets and confronted with financial collapse.

It has discovered a keen buying and selling companion, nonetheless, in President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, whose personal authorities has been crippled by American sanctions because the Trump administration seeks to push him from energy after broadly disputed elections in 2018.

Mr. Maduro up to now has resisted the stress marketing campaign to resign. But skyrocketing gasoline costs in Venezuela have impeded entry to meals, jobs, safety and well being care, and will provoke the nation’s already-simmering public in opposition to the embattled chief.

Tankers loaded with Iranian gasoline have beforehand sailed to Venezuela, and Iranian technicians have flown in to assist restore oil refineries which have atrophied underneath Mr. Maduro’s watch.

“We are seeing more and more global shipping fleets avoiding the Iran-Venezuela trade due to our sanctions implementation and enforcement efforts,” Morgan Ortagus, the State Department spokeswoman, mentioned in an announcement.

The intervention introduced on Friday was what the Justice Department described as the most important cargo of gasoline ever seized from Iran. It adopted a court docket warrant to permit the United States authorities to take custody of the gasoline aboard the 4 tankers.

Officials mentioned Brian H. Hook, the State Department’s departing particular envoy for Iran coverage, lately persuaded Mr. Gialozoglou to flip over the gasoline. The gasoline on two of the tankers was seized final month, and the remainder was taken over the previous few days.

At least two of the ships had been in or close to the Arabian Sea, and American officers waited till they moved far sufficient away from Iranian waters earlier than halting their transit, searching for to keep away from any likelihood of a navy conflict after seizing the gasoline.

The different two ships have been stopped within the Atlantic Ocean, the place the gasoline was offloaded, after exiting the Mediterranean Sea, the officers mentioned.

Meysam Sharifi, an oil dealer in Tehran, mentioned the tankers’ solely connection to Iran was the origin of the cargo, which was paid for upfront. Iranian-flagged ships have beforehand delivered gasoline to Venezuela, Mr. Sharifi mentioned.

This time, cautious of being stopped on account of the American court docket warrant, Mr. Maduro’s authorities most well-liked that the gasoline be delivered on one other nation’s vessel, Mr. Sharifi mentioned.

Ships loading and carrying Iranian oil usually function with their GPS locaters shut off when loading their cargo within the Persian Gulf. It can be widespread for Iranian tankers to ship or switch cargo ship-to-ship offshore.

The gasoline is value not less than tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} — cash that officers mentioned may now, as soon as the gasoline is auctioned off, be delivered to a authorities fund for victims and their survivors of state sponsors of terrorism. That fund, which is run by the Justice Department, historically has been supported by funds made by banks and firms which have violated terrorism-related American sanctions in opposition to Iran.

The Treasury Department has estimated that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reaped a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} within the spring of 2019 alone, promoting practically 10 million barrels of crude oil and hundreds of thousands extra in condensate and gasoline by clandestine shipments.

With the seizure and switch of Iran’s gasoline now made public, a senior American official mentioned that the Pentagon was intently monitoring Iranian navy exercise within the Persian Gulf for potential retaliation.

On Wednesday, American forces released video of what they described as Iranian troops climbing down a rope from a hovering helicopter to board a Liberian-flagged ship, the Wila, within the Gulf of Oman.

The U.S. Central Command, which oversees American navy forces within the area, referred to as the Iranian operation “reckless” and a violation of business delivery in worldwide waters. In an announcement, the navy command mentioned it watched the episode from close by, and famous that there have been no misery calls from the Wila.

The Justice Department mentioned the Iranian naval troops apparently have been on the lookout for their gasoline, however landed on the unsuitable ship.

An Iranian official with data of the episode mentioned the troops boarded the Liberian ship to retaliate in opposition to the American interdiction, however in the end determined in opposition to holding it. The official, who spoke on the situation of anonymity, mentioned Iran didn’t need to stir tensions on the eve of the arms embargo vote within the Security Council.

Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York, and David E. Sanger from Weston, Vt.



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