Despite trade embargoes, nearly 10,000 exceptions have been approved by the US Treasury Department for American companies to do business with Iran over the past decade, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
The companies were granted special licenses allowing them to sell some types of products in Iran and other countries the US considers terrorist sponsors and making billions of dollars in business, the newspaper wrote.
The special Treasury permits were granted to companies like Kraft Food, Pepsi and some of the largest US banks, under a law allowing trade in humanitarian goods, even if that means selling products as diverse as cigarettes and chewing gum.
Although no illegal activity by administration officials or company personnel is implied by the Times’ story, it suggests that America’s moral and diplomatic authority as the leading purveyor of tough sanctions on Iran, North Korea and other countries is undermined by the various deals for goods ranging from Louisiana hot sauce to body-building supplements.
According to the story posted on the newspaper’s website, an American company was allowed to bid on a pipeline job to help Iran sell natural gas to Europe even though the US opposes such deals.
And other American companies were permitted to deal with Iranian firms suspected of involvement in terrorism or weapons proliferation, the Times said.
Law easing sanctions
“Allowing the export to Iran of food items like hot sauce or salad dressing from the US is required by statute and, in any event, is trivial in the context of our Iran policy,” Stuart Levey, the Obama administration’s sanctions chief, said.
“Our efforts are focused on matters like the illicit conduct of the Iranian government and financial institutions that are facilitating it.”
According to Treasury officials the permitted trade was inconsequential compared with the broad scope of US sanctions, as goods sold to Iran amounted to only 0.02 per cent of all US exports in the first quarter of this year and were only a fraction of a percent of all Iranian imports.
In 2000 the law easing sanctions for some goods was passed by Congress, largely with Cuba in mind.
Iran is currently facing four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its disputed uranium enrichment programme and the US also pressures the country alleged links to terrorism and missile programmes.
According to Levey those rare cases don’t conflict with the larger American effort to apply international pressure on Iran but are part of an attempt to ensure that sanctions don’t affect the availability of food, medicine and medical devices to Iranian people.
The documents obtained by the Times through a public records request showed the US approved sale of luxury items to stores owned by blacklisted banks.
In response, administration officials said decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and reflect the realities of import chains, which can link some companies unwittingly to others.
“I haven’t seen any licenses that I thought we should have done differently,” Adam Szubin, the director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which grants the licenses, told the Times.
Yet he conceded that US officials weren’t fully investigating every importer.