U.S. Imported Iranian Oil After Ban; Agency Believes It Was Legal

Associated Press

A group affiliated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader said Friday that the United States imported 6.4 million barrels of crude oil from Iran after President Reagan banned trade with that country.

The Customs Service, however, said it believed that the oil was legal because it had been contracted for or was on the way when the President acted, but the agency said it could not immediately locate the documents to prove it.

The oil came through U.S. ports in November and December and accounted for 7.3% of U.S. crude imports for those two months. The trade embargo took effect Nov. 29.

Jason Adkins, director of Buyers Up, a consumer oil buying cooperative founded by Nader, said officials at the Foreign Assets Control Division of the Treasury and the Strategic Branch of the Customs Service “were completely unaware of the November and December shipments of Iranian oil to this country until we brought it to their attention.”


He agreed that the oil could be legal, but said he had not been able to find anyone in the government who could say it was.

Customs Service spokesman David Hoover said: “We’re reasonably sure--we don’t have the printout--the oil was legal.” He said it might take two days to find the computer printout that would show the certifications that the oil was exempt from the President’s action.

Since the exemptions expired Dec. 31, Hoover said he would be surprised if January statistics showed any shipments from Iran.

Iran was a major supplier to the United States in the 1970s before the Iranian revolution, but shipments fell after the 1981 release of the American hostages seized in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Iran generally accounted for from 1% to 3% of U.S. crude imports in following years. Shipments rose sharply in the early months of 1987, however, and in July Iran was the second-largest supplier to the United States.

Reagan said he imposed the ban to ensure that U.S. purchases did not contribute to terrorism, which the U.S. government says Iran supports. For all of 1987, Iran’s crude shipments amounted to 5.1% of U.S. crude imports, more than 88 million barrels worth $1.5 billion. That was more than triple the $468 million paid for 34 million barrels in 1986.