WASHINGTON – The Obama administration said Saturday its new guidance for foreign companies doing business with Iran doesn't ease remaining sanctions on the country. Some sanctions experts argued that the revised language has that effect.
The Treasury Department said that an update to its regulations published late Friday merely clarified what is and isn't allowed since last year's landmark nuclear deal that gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its atomic program. Treasury said the new "Frequently Asked Questions" section of its Iran sanctions regulations was issued in response to concerns from foreign businesses uncertain about what transactions may still be prohibited by non-nuclear sanctions.
"Yesterday's update was intended to clarify the scope of sanctions lifting under the (nuclear deal) and the sanctions that remain in place, and does not represent additional sanctions relief," Treasury said.
However, the clarifications make explicit that some previously prohibited dollar transactions with Iran by offshore banks are now allowed as long as they do not enter the U.S. financial system. And, they remove what had been seen as a blanket ban on foreign transactions with Iranian firms controlled by a person who remains subject to U.S. non-nuclear sanctions.
Despite the nuclear agreement, the U.S. maintains sanctions on Iran and certain Iranian companies and people. They are known as "specially designated nationals" or SDNs, for a variety of reasons, including its ballistic missile program, human rights record and support for groups the U.S. deems to be terrorist organizations.
The new Treasury language says foreign transactions with non-sanctioned entities that are nonetheless "minority owned" or "controlled in whole or in part by an Iranian or Iran-related person on the SDN list" are "not necessarily sanctionable" under U.S. regulations.
Treasury and some sanctions lawyers maintained that the new guidance doesn't reflect any change in policy or a loosening of sanctions.
But others, notably critics of the nuclear deal, said the clarifications effectively ease the sanctions by encouraging foreign firms to pursue deals with Iran, in particular with Iranian companies affiliated with designated terrorists or terrorist groups, like elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The net result of the clarifications, they said, was that more money will flow into Iran and to designated terrorists.