Russia and China are known as Iran’s allies and trading partners, but there is another country that has been instrumental in the regime’s continued survival: Panama.
Without Panama’s support, the Iranian regime would face significant obstacles in smuggling its oil and gas around the world. At least 16 percent of the world’s shipping fleet, by gross tonnage, is registered in Panama, including 39 percent of the 288 vessels that United Against a Nuclear Iran, which I advise, have suspected of participating in Iran’s foreign-flagged “ghost armada.” .
The Treasury Department should freeze this fleet of oil tankers with Americans and American businesses for violating US sanctions. The ships are at the heart of a smuggling network that helped the regime export $30 billion in oil in 2021, according to a UANI analysis of Iran’s monthly oil exports and the discounted price at which Iran sells its oil.
That revenue helps Iran fund terrorist organizations and pay security forces responsible for gross human rights abuses against Iranian protesters.
Given that Panama enjoys billions of dollars in annual trade with the United States and receives more U.S. direct investment than any other Central American country, the Panamanian government seems unconcerned that it won’t be helping a U.S. adversary evade U.S. sanctions.
Since 2020, Panama’s Maritime Authority, the world’s largest flag registry, has been presented with evidence gathered by UANI on 130 vessels of concern, but the PMA has zeroed in on just 18 of them, allowing others to continue their dubious function as mules. The regime of Iran. For example, on numerous occasions, UANI has provided the authorities with official bills of lading signed by the National Iranian Oil Company as additional evidence of a vessel carrying oil from Iran. Despite this hard evidence, the ships continue to fly the Panamanian flag.
Panamanian maritime authorities have been even less responsive to concerns raised by the US government. Two months ago, the Treasury Department, as part of its counter-terrorism efforts, designated three Panamanian-flagged vessels to participate in mixing Iranian oil with Indian oil. (Iran’s profits can be used to support US-designated foreign terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.)
A fourth vessel, a tanker called the Glory Harvest, was designated by the Treasury Department last year for shipping Iranian oil and petrochemicals, as was a fifth vessel for involvement in a network of companies illegally selling millions of barrels of Iranian oil. .
What did Panama do in response? Nothing. These ships continue to sail under the Panamanian flag.
Now, incredibly, Panama wants to lead the International Maritime Organization, the UN agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and combating illegal maritime activity. The government of Panama does not deserve the prestige it would gain if its ambassador to the organization, Arsenio Dominguez, became the agency’s secretary general. Simply put, Panama does not deserve the trust of the international community.
There is still time for the United States to act forcefully on the matter. Elections for the leadership of the International Maritime Organization are planned until the summer. In the coming months, the United States must pressure Panama to choose between aiding a homophobic and murderous regime or aligning itself clearly with the free world.
Such pressure can be applied in various ways. The new Congress should investigate Panama’s role in evading sanctions, and the Biden administration should include every vessel carrying Panamanian-flagged cargo, their owners and operators on the US “specially designated nationals” list. This freezes the entities’ assets, subjects them to seizure, and freezes them from doing business in the United States.
President Biden should also punish all individuals and entities that make up the world of so-called maritime service providers involved in evading Iran’s sanctions. They avoided responsibility for a long time. It is time for the United States to send a clear message that helping to fund the Iranian regime is intolerable and will be punished.