WASHINGTON, Aug 14 (Reuters) - A prominent U.S. lawmaker on Tuesday urged the U.S. government to take “aggressive action” against the small South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu for reflagging Iranian oil tankers.
Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuvalu had re-flagged 22 Iranian oil tankers and continued to assist Iran despite warnings that it could face U.S. sanctions.
“I recommend that you use the authority of ... the new law to take aggressive action to change Tuvalu’s policy of abetting Iran in evading U.S. sanctions,” Berman said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Berman was referring to a U.S. bill signed into law this month that authorizes sanctions against anyone who re-registers Iranian oil tankers. He did not specify what action should be taken, but noted that the law authorizes penalties.
The United States has a long-standing ban on imports of Iranian oil and has imposed new economic sanctions that have curbed Iranian oil imports by most other major nations.
The European Union banned Iranian oil imports as well as providing insurance for vessels carrying Iranian oil on July 1, part of international efforts to pressure Tehran to end a nuclear program the West believes is aimed at producing atomic bombs.
Reflagging ships masks their ownership, which could make it easier for Iran to obtain insurance and financing for the cargoes, as well as find buyers for the shipments without attracting attention from the United States and European Union.
Berman warned the Tuvalu government against reflagging ships last month.
In response to the letter, Tuvalu confirmed it had registered National Iranian Tanker Company vessels, but said it would monitor the vessels and take “appropriate action” against any Tuvalu flagged vessel that violated U.N. sanctions.
Earlier this summer, Berman also called for Tanzania to stop reflagging Iranian ships.
The Tanzanian government said this week it was in the process of de-registering 36 Iranian oil tankers that had been reflagged under the Tanzanian flag without the country’s knowledge and approval.