Republicans: Obama Sanctions Relief Helps China Corp Sell Spy Gear to Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) take part in a welco
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC), chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, and 22 other Republicans wrote a letter opposing sanctions relief by the Obama administration for a Chinese corporation accused of providing spy gear to Iran.

“I don’t know why the sanctions are being lifted. It’s preposterous to me. What was the basis on which they reversed their decision? We had embargoed this equipment,” Pittenger told Breitbart News. “It was very logical common sense to support human rights in Iran and push back against Iran’s oppression of women, religious minorities, and journalists.”

In March, President Barack Obama’s Commerce Department imposed trade restrictions on Chinese telecommunications equipment giant ZTE for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The Commerce Department accused ZTE Corp and related companies of circumventing U.S. sanctions and “illicitly” exporting spy equipment to Iran in violation of American laws.

Weeks after imposing the trade restrictions, “it appears Commerce reached a deal with ZTE to temporarily suspend those sanctions as part of its investigation,” the Republican lawmakers wrote in an April 27 letter addressed to the secretaries of the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, and State.

“We are concerned that if ZTE is not ultimately punished for its reported misconduct, American export control laws and international efforts to promote human rights in Iran will be weakened,” they added.

The Commerce Department had initially punished ZTE, which Rep. Pittenger argues has close ties to the Chinese government, by placing them on its Entity List, which amounts to a trade sanction.

In an effort to restrict the Iranian government’s ability to oppress dissidents and limit the free-flow of information, the U.S. placed restrictions on the sale of certain information technology (IT) equipment to the Islamic Republic.

The letter noted, “In 2012, it was reported that ZTE violated our export controls by selling embargoed equipment to the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI), a government-controlled entity, which would enable TCI to monitor and control all electronic communications within Iran.”

“These allegations were recently confirmed by documents released by the Commerce Department during its investigation,” the letter continued, later adding, “We respectfully request that you provide us information about the terms of your agreement with ZTE to temporarily lift restrictions.”

Rep. Pittenger, who also serves as the vice-chair of the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, argues that the Obama administration has no justification for reversing its decision to impose trade restrictions on ZTE.

“The president has no basis for doing this. Iran has an abysmal human rights record. That was confirmed just last month by the United Nations human rights council,” the North Carolina Republican told Breitbart News.

“President Obama needs to take the ZTE violations seriously and reimpose these trade sanctions. ZTE is a corporation that has very close ties with the Chinese government. China is the world’s number one state sponsor of cyber espionage and cyber attacks,” he added. “It’s preposterous to me that we would overlook the impact they can have by Iran having this type of capacity to monitor and control all communications within their own country.”

Rep. Pittenger said he does not expect the Obama administration to snap back the trade restrictions on the Chinese corporation any time soon.

“Observing the president’s actions in the past with Iran or any other adversary, they push back and he says ‘okay.’ It’s happened time and time again. He has a proclivity to caving in,” the congressman declared. “He has been so ambivalent. He’s acquiesced so many times.”

“What happened between the time since they imposed the embargo and when they lifted it? What did Iran do? The human rights abuses continue. Nothing has changed in Iran,” he added.

In late March, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that ZTE said it expected the United States to lift the trade restrictions on its business.

A United Nations report on the human rights situation in Iran published in March shed light on many of the ongoing abuses in the Shiite-majority country.

Iran is accused by the U.N. of continuing to carry out “widespread crackdowns” on freedom of expression as well as promoting the arbitrary arrests and prosecution of women, religious minorities, journalists, and other dissidents.


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