Iranian Airline Covertly Bought Parts from U.S. Suppliers While U.S. Aviation Sanctions Taking Toll on Iranian Civilians

The U.S. has suspended the export privileges of a Turkish national and three related companies it says obtained American-made aircraft parts for Iranian airlines, violating U.S. sanctions, CBS News reports.

The move was announced earlier this month but has passed largely unnoticed. Mira Ricardel, Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration, said in a February 5 news release from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) that the sanction shows that trade with Iran that defies U.S. export laws and regulations will not be tolerated. BIS oversees exports of high-technology and other products related to national security.

According to the Commerce Department, Turkish national Gulnihal Yegane set up shell companies to purchase equipment from U.S. suppliers on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air. The carrier is under sanctions by the U.S. for allegedly carrying arms and fighters in Syria. The jet parts were obtained through the Turkish fronts in the past several years, most recently in December. According to the Wall Street Journal, the trade action could support the views of some in the Trump administration who oppose granting permission to Boeing (BA) to sell aircraft to another Iranian carrier.

Boeing inked a $16.6 billion deal with with Iran Air in 2016. The agreement was seen as evidence of normalizing U.S. relations with Iran following a 2015 pact in which Tehran agreed to freeze development of its nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions being lifted. Ending the Boeing deal could impact the nuclear agreement as well as an estimated $40 billion in contracts for Boeing and Europe’s Airbus, which relies on U.S. licensing for its own agreement with Iran due to the many U.S.-made parts on its planes, according to the WSJ.

The U.S. has loosened sanctions again Iran Air, but they remain in place against Mahan for more than a decade due to its alleged collaboration with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the newspaper said.

The Sunday crash of an Iranian ATR 72 passenger plane in central Iran during a flight from Tehran to the southwestern city of Yasuj, which claimed the lives of 66 people, has once again brought into the limelight the issue of unilateral U.S. sanctions and their deleterious effect on Iran’s transportation sector, especially the country’s civil aviation fleet.

Experts believe that U.S. administration’s staunch opposition to the sale of new planes to Iran is the main factor to blame for dilapidation of Iranian air fleet, which has so far led to bloody incidents, taking a high toll on Iranian civilians. The U.S. opposition comes in stark contradiction to the text of the landmark nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries in 2015.

In September 2016, the United States Treasury Department removed a final hurdle for Western aircraft manufacturers to sell planes to Iran as it granted the aviation giants Airbus and Boeing licenses to deliver planes to Tehran.

In January 2017, Iran received the first plane purchased from the European giant aircraft maker, Airbus, following the implementation of the JCPOA. The 189-seat A321 plane, painted in Iran Air’s livery, was the first of 100 planes purchased under a December deal worth $18 billion. Iran received its second passenger plane from Airbus in March 2017 under the deal agreed with the French aircraft manufacturer.

In June 2016, Boeing signed a memorandum of agreement with Iran Air to sell a total of 80 aircraft and lease a further 29 to the company in a potential deal worth about $25 billion. Iranian Naft Airlines, a homebound charter airline providing passenger and cargo services to Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, received the first Boeing jet in September 2016.

However, The Wall Street Journal in December 2017 cited U.S. officials as saying that Trump’s administration was considering blocking planned sales of hundreds of passenger planes by Boeing and Airbus to Iranian airlines. It reported that Trump’s team was expected to present him with options that included banning sales, imposing stringent conditions that could halt any aircraft deliveries, or slow-walking approvals.

The U.S. House of Representatives in September 2017 voted in favor of new measures that block sales of commercial aircraft to Iran, ignoring some lawmakers’ warnings that the hostile move would undermine the JCPOA. The new measures would specifically prevent the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) from clearing licenses to allow aircraft sales while also prohibit the use of funds to authorize the required financial transactions.

Senior Iranian lawmakers called for action after the U.S. House approved new measures that block the sales of commercial aircraft to the Islamic Republic. Chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi called the move a “clear violation of the JCPOA.”

Republican U.S. senators in February 2017 introduced legislation to impose fresh sanctions on Iran’s aviation sector, accusing Tehran of using civilian aircraft to support terrorism. Senators Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, Ben Sasse and David Perdue introduced the “Iran Terror-Free Skies Act,” legislation that would “counter Iran’s use of commercial aircraft in support of international terrorism and state sponsors of terrorism, or for other illicit military purposes,” according to a press release published on Rubio’s website.

Another analyst believed that the United States’ sanctions against Iran have been aimed at creating chaos, adding that the administration of President Trump was using the economy as a “weapon” to destabilize the country.