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January 11, 2011

Humanitarian Tragedy in Iran Yet Another Wakeup Call

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6mbkCLGbZg]

This past weekend an Iranian Boeing 727 crashed in northwestern Iran while attempting an emergency landing, taking at least 77 lives.
Headlines regarding fatal plane crashes in Iran have become all too common in recent years, and the increasing number of innocent people killed in these incidents draws attention to the worst effects of US sanctions against Iran.
Thanks in large part to the US embargo on Iran, Iran is unable to maintain their aging commercial airliners, most of which have been operating since before the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  Since then, Iran has relied on spare parts garnered from international smuggling, the cannibalization of their own aircraft, and risky reverse engineering to piece together functional planes.
The White House has the authority to waive the embargo on civilian aircraft parts on humanitarian grounds on a case-by-case basis, though it almost never does so. (The last such instance was a Sept. 2006 decision to allow the export of several Airbus engine spare parts by the Bush administration.) This contradicts the principles of the Chicago Convention, to which both the United States and Iran are signatories, which requires that states “meet the needs of the peoples of the world for safe, regular, efficient and economical air transport”.
However, even the possibility of complying with the Chicago Convention and allowing the export of civilian aircraft parts to ensure safety of flight is too much for some Iran hawks in Congress to countenance.  As NIAC first reported, legislation introduced by Rep. Sherman (D-CA) last Congress would eliminate the President’s authority to license civilian aircraft parts. Sherman has previously expressed his desire to make US sanctions “hurt the Iranian people,” so his disregard for the consequences of this measure is clear, but he apparently does not realize that cutting off all accessibility to aircraft parts also endangers the lives the thousands of his Iranian-American constituents that visit Iran every year.
Rep. Sherman is now looking to reintroduce his legislation, though he’s looking for a Republican to act as the lead sponsor to improve the bill’s chances of being passed in the hyper-partisan House of Representatives.  Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced a companion to Sherman’s bill in the Senate but, perhaps in response to the opposition by NIAC and Iranian-American community, he had the good sense to strip the provisions that would put all passengers of Iranian civilian aircraft at even greater risk.
Before he reintroduces his bill, let’s hope that Congressman Sherman takes the opportunity to reconsider whether putting civilian aircraft passengers in Iran in even further danger is a good idea.

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