Democratic Lawmakers Seek Probe of U.S. Exports to Iran

Two Democrats in the House of Representatives are asking congressional investigators to examine U.S. exports to Iran to see whether approval procedures are being abused in light of a dramatic increase in the dollar value of shipments there over President George W. Bush's first seven years in office.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman and committee member David Scott asked the Government Accountability Office for the review. They say they are reacting to an Associated Press report earlier this year that chronicled a more than tenfold increase in the dollar value of U.S. exports to Iran, from about $8 million in 2001 to nearly $150 million in 2007.

The AP found cigarettes, bull semen, military apparel and a grab-bag of other U.S. goods including musical instruments and brassieres went Iran's way during that period in addition to medical supplies, corn and soybeans. The exports were sent under agricultural, medical and humanitarian exemptions to U.S. sanctions on Iran. The Bush administration has declined to say who is getting the export licenses.

"The revelations in the AP article are deeply disturbing, particularly at a time when Iran continues to pursue its nuclear program in defiance of the will of the international community," the lawmakers told the GAO in a letter Monday, adding that there are few national priorities more pressing than U.S. policy toward Iran.

The AP found the government's own records showed at least $106,635 in military rifles and $8,760 in rifle parts and accessories going to Iran, along with thousands of dollars worth of military aircraft parts.

The Bush administration looked into those exports after AP questioned them. It said the rifles and parts actually went to Iraq, and that Iran was erroneously entered on the shipping record. At least $13,000 in "aircraft launching gear and/or deck arrestors," equipment needed to launch jets from aircraft carriers, actually went to Italy, not to Iran as records showed, the administration said.

"In light of this odd circumstance, your report also should address the following questions: Is the U.S., in fact, selling military equipment to Iran? If not, what is the explanation for recording errors indicating that such sales did, in fact, take place?" the lawmakers told the GAO. "Why was nobody aware of the recording errors until the AP story appeared?"

Bush earlier this year signed legislation banning the Pentagon from selling its leftover F-14 fighter jet parts, a move prompted by the AP's reporting on security gaps in Defense Department surplus sales that made them a prime hunting ground for buyers for Iran and other countries. Iran, allowed by the U.S. to buy Tomcats decades ago when the two countries were still allies, is believed to be the only country trying to keep the old fighter jets airworthy.