WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers already leery of the Iran nuclear deal railed this week at new US Treasury Department guidelines indicating foreign companies will not be sanctioned for doing business with Iranian entities.
The updated guidelines, which were published last Friday, allow for business dealings inside Iran so long as the US financial system and Americans are not involved.
They also specified that transactions are permitted with blacklisted individuals and companies, including terrorists with whom US citizens are prohibited from doing business, if that person or entity maintains only a minority interest in those ventures.
Some have said the move amounts to a “loosening of sanctions,” like Eric Lorber, a senior associate at the Financial Integrity Network and an expert on economic sanctions and regulatory compliance. A Treasury Department official, however, told Bloomberg News the changes were not akin to further sanction relief.
Since the announcement was made, GOP senators have not only denounced the Treasury’s ruling but have questioned the legality of the administration’s ability to make such decisions unilaterally.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton claimed that issuing the guidelines constitutes “contravening clear US statutory law,” and accused US President Barack Obama of trying to “funnel as much business to Iran as possible.”
In an email to The Times of Israel, he said: “The new guidance overturns the long-running understanding that the US dollar cannot be used to facilitate international trade with any Iranian entities, let alone sanctioned entities.”
The Obama administration contends that integrating Iran into the international economy could help to empower President Hassan Rouhani and relatively moderate forces inside the country and strengthen the July 2015 nuclear accord, in which world powers reached an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions on the country.
The US still maintains sanctions on Iran, as well as on Iranian companies and people on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list.
American law does forbid Iranian banks and companies from conducting business through US banks. The new guidelines indicated, though, it was legally permissible for Tehran to work with non-US banks and institutions, provided they have no relationship with the US financial system.
Other Republican lawmakers expressed concern that the directive would result in more money being channeled to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite military unit.
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, chair of the Senate banking committee with oversight on Iran sanctions law, said allowing for such transactions would enable the regime’s nefarious designs in the region, including the promulgation of further terrorist activities.
“In yet another unilateral move, the Administration has given the green light for money, including American dollars, to flow more aggressively into Iranian companies owned or controlled in part by Iran’s terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” he said in a statement.
“Given the severe financial and reputational risks raised by doing business with Iran, the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism according to our own State Department, foreign banks and business are walking into dangerous territory if they take the Administration’s Iranian bait,” he added.
The administration has recently taken steps to initiate more economic activity with the Islamic Republic. Last month, the Treasury Department approved the sale of 80 Boeing IranAir commercial passenger aircraft to Iran, a $20 billion provisional deal that was the largest transaction between the two countries since the 1979 revolution.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines was also among those assailing the updated Treasury guidelines released Friday, calling them a “capitulation.” He told The Times of Israel the US should not be “making sweetheart deals” with Iran.