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US Sanctions Illicit Scheme to Ship Oil to Syria

FILE - A former farmer at a primitive refinery makes crude oil into diesel and other products in Syria, April 6, 2018.

The United States has imposed sanctions on six people and three entities for their involvement in oil shipments to Syria, the U.S. Treasury Department said Tuesday.

The individuals listed in a statement by the U.S. Treasury included two Iranian nationals, a Russian, a Syrian, an Iraqi and a Lebanese. Two of the entities listed are based in Russia and one in Iran.

Iranian officials have been working with Russian companies to ship "millions of barrels of oil to Syria," U.S. officials said.

"Today we are acting against a complex scheme Iran and Russia have used to bolster the Assad regime and generate funds for Iranian malign activity," Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury Secretary, said in a statement following the announcement.

"The Central Bank of Iran officials continue to exploit the international financial system, and in this case even used a company whose name suggests a trade in humanitarian goods as a tool to facilitate financial transfers supporting this oil scheme," Mnuchin added.

The U.S. has long accused Iran of sponsoring terrorism throughout the Middle East by providing funding to non-state actors and authoritarian governments.

FILE - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a meeting at the Treasury Department in Washington, Oct. 16, 2018.
FILE - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a meeting at the Treasury Department in Washington, Oct. 16, 2018.

"The Iranian regime continues to prioritize spending money on fomenting terror over supporting its own people," said Sigal Mandelker, U.S. Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

"This is yet another example of the regime using the proceeds of millions of barrels of its oil to fund terrorists and the murderous Assad regime to the detriment of its own people," he said in a statement Tuesday.

Mandelker added that the U.S. will seek to impose sanctions against any party involved in shipping oil to Syria, or seeking to evade our sanctions on Iranian oil.

U.S. sanctions prohibit material support to the Syrian government, including shipments of oil to Syrian government-controlled ports, as well as material support to designated terrorist groups.

But since the beginning of Syria's civil war in 2011, Iran has been a major backer of the Syrian regime, providing military and financial support against rebels.

The Iranian regime also has been funding several regional proxies, such as the Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Both groups are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S.

The latest sanctions are part of the U.S. efforts to pressure Iran economically for what the Trump administration has described as Iran's destabilizing role in the Middle East.

Iranian people

Iranian officials have often said that U.S. sanctions are negatively affecting Iranian people, but a senior U.S. official emphasized Tuesday the U.S. is not looking to harm the Iranian people.

"We very much support getting humanitarian goods to Iran, but Tehran is taking deceptive means to obfuscate sanctions," the U.S. official said Tuesday.

The U.S. also issued a global maritime advisory warning to shipping companies that they will be at risk of U.S. sanctions if they get involved in shipping oil to Syria.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration unveiled new sanctions on Iran, targeting 50 banks, the Iranian national airline, and 200 members of the shipping industry and vessels.