Friday, November 8, 2013
U.S. Eases Sanctions to Allow Good-Will Exchanges With Iran
The Obama administration on Tuesday eased longstanding restraints on humanitarian and good-will activities between Iran and the United States, including athletic exchanges. It was at least the second American government relaxation of Iranian sanctions this year and came as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has signaled his desire to improve relations.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the sanctions on Iran, said in a statement that it had cut the bureaucracy for obtaining exemptions in order to expedite the provision of health services, disaster relief, wildlife conservation and human rights projects in the country. Also authorized are “activities related to sports matches and events, the sponsorship of sports players, coaching, refereeing and training, in addition to other activities.”
The Treasury statement said the action, which eliminates requirements for special exemption licenses on a case-by-case basis, reflected what it called “this administration’s commitment to reinforcing ties between the Iranian and American people.”
Advocacy groups welcomed the step. The National Iranian American Council, which is critical of Iran’s government but opposes the sanctions, said it had been working for years to loosen the restraints on humanitarian and athletic exchanges.
“Today’s action is critical in helping prevent broad sanctions from isolating ordinary Iranians and ensuring that humanitarian needs of ordinary people do not fall prey to political disputes between the U.S. and Iranian governments," the group’s policy director, Jamal Abdi, said in a statement. “In lieu of formal diplomatic relations between the two governments, people-to-people diplomacy and athletic exchanges are crucial for bridging divides between the American and Iranian people."
The Treasury action came only a few weeks after an Iranian tennis referee, Adel Borghei, hired in May to work at the United States Open, was blocked from taking the job because of sanctions regulations enforced by the Treasury Department. The Akrivis Law Group, a Washington firm that specializes in sanctions law, agreed to represent him and secured a license that enabled him to work after his story had been publicized by the Iranian and American news media.
An Akrivis lawyer, Farhad Alavi, said in a telephone interview that the timing of the Treasury’s easing of the rules “obviously follows on the coattails of the tennis case.”
Most Treasury sanctions concerning Iran in recent years have tightened restrictions as part of a broader American policy to pressure Iran into concessions over its disputed nuclear program. Iran insists the program is peaceful but the West and Israel suspect it is meant to enable Iran to make nuclear weapons.
Last May the Treasury and State Departments lifted sanctions on companies seeking to sell personal communications technology to ordinary Iranians.
Mr. Rouhani, who was elected in June and took office last month, has said he wanted to reduce Iran’s isolation and to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute. He has not specified whether Iran was prepared to make any concessions, but in an interview on Iranian state television on Tuesday he said that time for resolving the dispute was limited and that “I am hopeful we can, step by step, solve this problem.”