On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department approved controversial licenses for Boeing and Airbus to sell planes to Iran — a move critics say could enable Iran to ferry troops and weapons into Syria and other conflict zones with American and European aircraft.
“While the United States has relaxed many of its sanctions against Iran, Washington still demands that even non-American manufacturers wishing to sell to Iran obtain an export license if their products include materials made in the United States. Airbus, based in Europe, buys more than 40 percent of all its aircraft parts in the United States,” the New York Times explains.
Iran has been complaining that it did not reap the expected economic benefits from President Obama’s nuclear deal, although some of the obstacles are sanctions imposed on Tehran and individual Iranians for reasons beyond their nuclear weapons program.
As the NYT points out, Iran has been particularly eager to obtain new aircraft, as its aging and poorly-maintained fleet has suffered crashes causing hundreds of deaths.
Politically, the Obama administration wants to prop up Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the “moderate” who might lose his office in the next elections over dissatisfaction with the economy and criticism of the nuclear deal. (His successor might just be his predecessor, “hardline” madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)
Several analysts quoted by the New York Times called the Treasury’s approval of Boeing and Airbus sales “good news” and a “big win” for Rouhani, although his political adversaries in Iran promptly denounced the deal as bribery, and Rouhani as a puppet of Washington.
USA Today recounts opposition to the deal in Congress:
The House of Representatives voted in July to block aircraft sales by both Airbus and Boeing to Iran, but the Senate has not yet acted. The legislation sought to block the Treasury Department from licensing the sales and to prevent loans from U.S. institutions to finance the deals.
Republican Reps. Peter Roskam of Illinois and Jeb Hensarling of Texas wrote a joint letter in June to Boeing arguing that Iran uses commercial aircraft to transport weapons, military parts, rockets and missiles to U.S. enemies around the world.
“Iran’s commercial aviation sector is deeply involved in supporting hostile actors,” the lawmakers wrote.
Roskam reiterated his opposition in a statement quoted by the New York Times, saying the Obama administration has “once again made a political decision to appease Iran at the expense of our national security.”
For the record, the Treasury Department claims the Boeing and Airbus licenses include “strict conditions to ensure that the planes will be used exclusively for commercial passenger use, and cannot be resold or transferred to another entity.”
One other interesting wrinkle mentioned by the NYT is that Iran has no obvious means of paying for the planes, given that low market prices have prevented its oil sales from producing a financial windfall, and international banks remain reluctant to extend credit to the U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism.
If Iran does find itself unable to pay for its planes, it will most likely demand redress from the Obama administration, and it will most likely get what it wants.