WASHINGTON, April 5, 2014 — The U.S. Treasury Department last week granted licenses to Boeing and General Electric to export commercial aircraft parts to Iran, just days after the U.S. government expressed “concerns” about Iran’s likely choice for UN Ambassador.
The United States and other Western nations reached a preliminary agreement with Iran last January, under which the West agreed to relieve some sanctions in exchange from nuclear concessions from Iran. The talks were prodded by the election of Hassan Rouhani as President late last year, which some lauded as a move toward moderation.
The licenses for GE and Boeing are part of the sanctions relief provided by the agreement.
This is the first official dealings between US aerospace companies and Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis, where Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and held 52 American’s hostage for 444 days. That action prompted the US to initiate sanctions against Iran. Those sanctions were later expanded due to Iran’s nuclear program and refusal to comply with international monitoring.
GE issued a statement that the Treasury approved its application to service 18 engines it sold to Iran in the late 1970s at GE facilities or a German site licensed to service GE engines.
Boeing’s statement said it received the licenses from Treasury to supply replacement last week, and will now contact Iranian carriers to determine which parts they need.
According to the US Treasury licenses, GE and Boeing can service planes and engines currently owned by Iran, but cannot sell new aircraft to Iran. Iran is currently flying planes it received before the 1979 revolution that ousted the US-backed Shah.
The sanctions have prevented Iran from upgrading and modernizing its planes, which should have been retired years ago. The official Iranian news agency says Iranian flights have suffered more than 200 accidents, causing more than 2,000 deaths, since 1990.
Ironically, the announcement of the licenses comes less than a week after Washington said it is “troubled” by reports that Iran has named Hamid Aboutalebi as its ambassador to the United Nations.
The reason the United States is “troubled” by Aboutalebi is that he has admitted to being part of the student group that held those 52 American hostages. Aboutalebi says his role was limited, and that he acted only as a translator and a negotiator. Aboutalebi has since served as Iran’s ambassador to Italy, Belgium and Australia.
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, responded to the announcement by introducing legislation preventing known terrorists from entering the United States as ambassadors to the United Nations.
Cruz called the selection of Aboutalebi “outrageous” and has vowed to make sure he cannot enter the United States. During a speech on the Senate floor, Cruz said, “It is unconscionable that in the name of international diplomatic protocol the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard of the status of diplomats when they were stationed in his country. This person is an acknowledged terrorist.”
Cruz also called the nomination “willfully, deliberately insulting and contemptuous.”
Senator John McCain, R-Ariz, also opposed the nomination, calling it “an in-your-face action by the Iranian government, sending a guy who was responsible for the absolutely, totally illegal incarceration of American citizens.”
Others, however, note that several of the leaders of the hostage crisis have become reformers over the last 30 years, seeking positive relations with the United States. Abbas Abdi, one of the leaders of the student movement, traveled to Paris in 1998 and met with US embassy press officer Barry Rosen, a hostage, and apologized. He also published polls that showed most Iranian’s wanted better relations with the United States, and was beaten and jailed for those revelations.
Meanwhile, the nuclear talks that led to the relaxing of sanctions are under scrutiny. While the initial, temporary agreement was lauded as a victory, questions about the deal are continuing to emerge. Many analysts note, for example, that key Iranian facilities were not included in the agreement, allowing them to escape monitoring. Additionally, there is no requirement to dismantle existing sites or stockpiles. According to the Heritage Foundation and other studies, with the current constraints, Iran could still build a nuclear weapon within a matter of months.
Moreover, Iranian officials have issued hard-line statements since the talks. Rouhani trumpeted the agreement as a victory for Iran, saying the country gave up very little for the accord. Tehran has refused to consider discussions on missile technology, and insists any discussion on missiles will cause Iran to leave the negotiating table.
The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, remains defiant and says Iran will never submit to the United States on nuclear policy issues.
The last round of nuclear talks between Iran and Western powers took place from April 1 to April 4, coinciding with the naming of the UN Ambassador and the licenses to Boeing and GE. The next round is scheduled to start on Tuesday.