US approved business with blacklisted countries: NYT

Friday, December 24, 2010

WASHINGTON - The US has allowed American companies to do billions of dollars worth of business with Iran and other countries blacklisted as sponsors of terrorism, The New York Times reported Friday.

Despite economic sanctions and trade embargoes enforced by the US government, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control can make certain exceptions.

The office has granted nearly 10,000 licenses conforming to a law that allows agricultural and medical humanitarian aid in countries where sanctions have been imposed.

A decades-old law - pushed by the farm lobby and other industry groups - was written so broadly that humanitarian aid has included cigarettes, chewing gum, hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment.

Such items were sold by US companies to an institute that trains Iran’s Olympic athletes, the report said.

Hundreds of other licenses were approved because they “served American foreign policy goals”.

Among them are deals to provide famine relief in North Korea or to improve internet connections and “nurture democracy” in Iran.

But there have been cases in which the foreign-policy benefits were considerably less clear.

In one instance, an American company was permitted to bid on a pipeline that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the US opposes such projects.

Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation.

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.

“No one can doubt that we are serious about this,” the Obama administration’s official on sanctions, Stuart A. Levey, said.

“It’s not a bad thing to grant exceptions if it represents a conscious policy decision to give countries an incentive,” said Stuart Eizenstat, who oversaw sanctions policy for the Clinton administration when the humanitarian-aid law was passed.

“But when you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses,” he said.

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