- New York Times
Despite sanctions and trade embargoes, over the past decade the US government has allowed its companies to do billions of dollars in business with Iran and other countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism, an examination by The New York Times has found.
At the behest of a host of companies — from Kraft Food and Pepsi to some of the nation’s largest banks — a little-known office of the Treasury Department has granted nearly 10,000 licenses for deals involving countries that have been cast into economic purgatory, beyond the reach of American business.
Most of the licenses were approved under a decade-old law mandating that agricultural and medical humanitarian aid be exemp-ted from sanctions. But the law, pushed by the farm lobby and other industry groups, was written so broadly that allowable humanitarian aid has included cigarettes, Wrig-ley’s gum, Louisiana hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment sold to the institute that trains Iran’s Olympic athletes.
Hundreds of other licenses were approved because they passed a litmus test: They were deemed to serve US foreign policy goals. And many clearly do, among them deals to provide famine relief in North Korea or to improve Inter-net connections — and nurture democracy — in Iran. But the examination also found cases in which the foreign-policy benefits were considerably less clear.
In one instance, an American company was permitted to bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the US opposes such projects. Several other US businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation.
In one such case, involving equipment bought by a medical waste disposal plant in Hawaii, the government was preparing to deny the license until an influential politician intervened.
In an interview, the Obama administration’s point man on sanctions, Mr Stuart A. Levey, said that focusing on the exceptions “misses the forest for the trees.”
Indeed, the exceptions represent only a small counterweight to the overall force of America’s trade sanctions, which are among the toughest in the world. Now they are particularly focused on Iran, where on top of a broad embargo that prohibits most trade, the US and its allies this year adopted a new round of sanctions that have effectively shut Iran off from much of the international financial system.
What’s more, in countries like Iran where elements of the government have assu-med control over large portions of the economy, it is increasingly difficult to separate exceptions that help the people from those that enrich the state.