NIAC Pushes for Broader Sanctions Exemptions for Humanitarian Relief

Washington, DC – In response to Iran’s deadly 2017 earthquake in Kermanshah province, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens donated to humanitarian relief efforts to rebuild devastated areas. Humanitarian relief efforts have long been exempt from U.S. sanctions law, though in practice there continue to be sanctions-related hurdles both in how American citizens contribute to relief efforts and how humanitarian NGO’s are able to finance relief work on the ground. On numerous occasions, NIAC has raised concerns regarding these complications and pushed the administration to ensure that U.S. sanctions were not standing in the way of urgent relief. In November, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and four other Senators led a letter urging the administration to broaden its sanctions exemptions to facilitate relief.

On March 22, the Department of Treasury solicited feedback on the effectiveness of its current licensing procedures for humanitarian aid to Iran and Sudan. Given the importance of this issue to both the people of Iran and the Iranian-American community, NIAC submitted comments recommending opportunities for improvements, including by encouraging the Treasury Department to authorize a direct banking channel between the U.S. and Iran to finance relief work. This is of critical importance, as we have heard directly from humanitarian organizations regarding the continued difficulty of finding banks willing to transact with them given the perceived risk of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.

We will continue to work to advance our recommendations and ensure that U.S. sanctions do not inadvertently impede humanitarian relief to the people of Iran. You can see the text of NIAC’s comment below:

ATTN: Request for Comments (TSRA)
Office of Foreign Assets Control
United States Department of the Treasury
Freedman’s Bank Building
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20220

Re: NIAC’s Comments Regarding OFAC’s TSRA Licensing Procedures

Dear Sir or Madam:

            On March 22, 2018, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced that it was “soliciting comments on the effectiveness of OFAC’s licensing procedures for the exportation of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Sudan and Iran.”[1]  OFAC is required to solicit such comments as part of its biennial report to Congress on the operation of the licensing procedures pursuant to § 906 of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (“TSRA”) and will consider any such comments during the development of its report to Congress.  

By means of this instant submission, the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, submits its comments regarding the effectiveness of OFAC’s licensing procedures for the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran for the time period between October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2016. NIAC submits such comments with the sole intent of encouraging the robust facilitation of humanitarian trade between the United States and Iran in order to benefit the Iranian people, as is the purpose of the underlying TSRA legislation.

  1. Factual Background

            The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (“TSRA”), 22 U.S.C. § 7201 et seq., terminates any unilateral agricultural sanction or unilateral medical sanction in effect as of October 28, 2000 against a foreign country or foreign entity and prohibits the President from imposing any such unilateral agricultural sanction or unilateral medical sanction unless a proposed sanction is enacted into law by a joint resolution of the Congress.[2]  However, this provision does not direct the termination of, or prohibit the imposition of, any unilateral agricultural sanction or unilateral medical sanction that prohibits, restricts, or conditions the provision or use of any agricultural commodity, medicine, or medical device that is controlled on the United States Munitions List (“USML”), controlled on any control list established by the Export Administration Act of 1979 (“EAA”) or any successor statute, or used to facilitate the development or production of chemical or biological weapons or weapons of mass destruction.[3]

            Moreover, TSRA provides that the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical devices to Cuba or to any U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism shall only be made pursuant to one (1) year licenses issued by the U.S. government for contracts entered into during the one (1) year period of the license and shipped within the twelve (12) month period beginning on the date of the signing of the contract.[4]  OFAC applies the licensing procedures required by this latter provision to all exports and re-exports of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism – including Iran and Sudan – that are within the current scope of OFAC’s licensing jurisdiction.[5]

            Iran remains a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism; and, as such, TSRA’s licensing procedures are applicable to the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical devices to Iran.  These licensing procedures are codified in the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560.  Section 560.530 of the ITSR promulgates a general license and specific licensing procedure for the sale, export, and re-export to Iran of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices, while § 560.532 of the ITSR identifies authorized means of making payment for and financing any such licensed sales, exports, or re-exports of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran. 

  1. NIAC’s Comments Regarding OFAC’s TSRA Licensing Procedures

            The most significant impediment to U.S. person engagement in humanitarian trade with Iran remains the lack of a financial channel to remit payment for humanitarian goods.  Despite licensing the making of payments and financing for sales, exports, and re-exports of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran, OFAC’s licensing procedures have failed to provide U.S. persons with reliable options for receiving payment for the provision of permissible humanitarian items to Iran.  Unable to reliably receive payment for their provision of humanitarian goods to Iran or receive financing to permit the sale of such humanitarian items to Iran, a substantial number of U.S. persons that otherwise would have made use of OFAC’s licensing procedures for humanitarian trade with Iran have elected not to pursue such trade.  This undermines U.S. foreign policy interests vis-à-vis Iran, as well as the purposes underlying TSRA’s legislation, by enacting a de facto embargo on the sale, export, or re-export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran. 

            Pursuant to 31 C.F.R. § 560.532(a), OFAC provides general license authorization for the following payments terms for sales authorized under § 560.530(a)

(1)       Payment of cash in advance;

(2)       Sales on open account, provided that the account receivable may not be transferred to the person extending the credit;

(3)       Financing by third-country financial institutions that are not U.S. persons, entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons and established or maintained outside the United States, Iranian financial institutions, or the Government of Iran.  Such financing may be confirmed or advised by U.S. financial institutions and by financial institutions that are entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons and established or maintained outside the United States; or

(4)       Letter of credit issued by an Iranian financial institution whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to 31 C.F.R. Part 560. Such letter of credit must be initially advised, confirmed, or otherwise dealt in by a third-country financial institution that is not a U.S. person, an entity owned or controlled by a U.S. person and established or maintained outside the U.S., an Iranian financial institution, or the Government of Iran before it is advised, confirmed, or dealt in by a U.S. financial institution or a financial institution that is an entity owned or controlled by a U.S. person and established or maintained outside the United States. 

Section 560.532(c)(2) further states that “[n]othing in this section authorizes payment terms or trade financing involving debits or credits to Iranian accounts, as defined in § 560.320.” 

            OFAC’s licensing procedures prohibit direct interaction between U.S. and Iranian financial institutions, as evidenced above.  Indeed, OFAC itself has stated that “it is contrary to U.S. foreign policy to allow U.S. financial institutions to maintain active correspondent relationships with Iranian banks.”  As a result, any financing for or receipt of payment from the licensed export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran must involve a third-country financial institution prior to the involvement of a U.S. financial institution, and U.S. person engagement in humanitarian trade involving Iran is contingent on the willingness of third-country financial institutions to issue letters of credit or otherwise process transactions involving the export or re-export of agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical devices from the United States or by a U.S. person, wherever located, to Iran.

            Unfortunately, OFAC has ample precedent at this time demonstrating that third-country financial institutions are generally unwilling to aid U.S. persons seeking to engage in humanitarian trade with Iran authorized pursuant to 31 C.F.R. § 560.530(a).  As a result, U.S. persons have not taken advantage of the permitted trade openings to the extent that would otherwise be possible if there were a reliable, authorized financial channel to remit funds from Iran to the United States.  OFAC has been presented with numerous options to resolve this ongoing problem, including, but not limited to, a direct financial channel between the United States and Iran for licensed dealings between the two countries.  For reasons that remain unclear, OFAC has chosen not to pursue these solutions and has persisted with an authorization that fails to produce the desired outcome.

            It is NIAC’s hope that OFAC will revisit its licensing procedures, including, most especially, its authorization for making payments and financing for the export and re-export of agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices to Iran, and will broaden the scope of current license authorizations to ensure that U.S. persons are able to timely and reliably receive payment and financing for humanitarian trade with Iran.

            III.      Conclusion

            NIAC submits this comment pursuant to OFAC’s March 22, 2018 Request for Comment and hopes that the agency will consider this feedback concerning its TSRA licensing procedures.  It is our considered view that while the agency has made important progress expanding the scope of license authorizations relating to the sale, export, and re-export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran – including by broadening the scope of medical devices that are generally authorized for export or re-export to Iran – OFAC should ensure that these license authorizations can be fully utilized by ensuring reliable options exist for making payments for and financing the export of such humanitarian items.  For the reasons explained above, NIAC believes that OFAC’s license authorizations have been under-utilized as a result of the lack of a reliable financial channel to facilitate payments for humanitarian items, and only new solutions – including, for example, a direct financial channel between the United States and Iran – can ease this ongoing problem for U.S. exporters and re-exporters.

[1]Effectiveness of Licensing Procedures for Exportation of Agricultural Commodities, Medicine, and Medical Devices to Sudan and Iran; Comment Request, U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, 83 Fed. Reg.12513, March 22, 2018, available athttps://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-03-22/pdf/2018-05638.pdf.

[2]See 22 U.S.C. § 7201 et seq.

[3]Resource Center: Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) Program, U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, January 13, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/programs/pages/tsra_info.aspx. See also22 U.S.C. § 7203.

[4]22 U.S.C. § 7205.

[5]Resource Center: Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) Program, U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, January 13, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/programs/pages/tsra_info.aspx.

 

About Author

Anya Raadam
Connect with Me: