The Treasury Department on Thursday has put the brakes on Iran Air, over Iran's clandestine nuclear program.
The Treasury continued deliberations over whether to issue a commercial license to General Electric to carry out repairs on the airline’s aging fleet of Boeing jetliners.
The new sanctions would prohibit U.S. companies from doing business with Iran Air and effectively ban the Iranian carrier from using the U.S. financial system. But the Treasury is still considering issuing a waiver to carry out the engine repairs, congressional sources told Newsmax.
The Treasury’s apparent about-face followed intense pressure from Congress, which learned about General Electric’s impending deal with Iran Air this spring and sought to block it.
Congressional leaders banned togather to express their concern in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We write to express our serious concerns regarding the State Department’s decision to recommend that a license be issued by the Treasury Department for the inspection and potential repair of General Electric engines currently in service on Iranian aircraft.”
The letter cited published reports that Iran was using its commercial airliners to supply arms to Hezbollah through Syria in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, including one case in March involving a “civilian” Ilyushin aircraft that was forced to land in Turkey and was found to be carrying 19 crates of weapons labeled as spare parts for cars.
“Iran may also be using its civilian aircraft to ferry Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps, Quds Force and Hezbollah personnel, and [to] transport sensitive equipment necessary for its nuclear and missile programs,” the letter stated.
The letter was signed by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; Brad Sherman, D-Calif.; Ed Royce, R-Ca.; Howard Berman, D, Calif.; and Gary Ackerman, D, N.Y.; as well as Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Mark Kirk of Illinois.
In announcing the new sanctions on Thursday, the Treasury Department confirmed those allegations, noting that Iran Air was used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to transport military related equipment in violation of U.N. sanctions, often times disguised as medicine and spare parts.
An embargoed U.N. report, which Newsmax reported on earlier this week, revealed that North Korea and Iran have been routinely sharing prohibited ballistic missile technology — with the help of Iran Air — in breach of U.N. sanctions.
The report said that the transfers were believed to be taking place on regular scheduled flights of Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned airline, and Iran Air, using air cargo hubs with lax security in a neighboring third country, “widely assumed to be China,” according to Rep. Sherman.
In a joint statement to announce the sanctions, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither said the United States remained “committed to a dual-track policy of applying pressure in pursuit of constructive engagement, and a negotiated solution.”
Neither Cabinet official mentioned the maintenance licenses for General Electric. But Sherman raised the issue at a hearing on Iran and Syria less than an hour before the Iran Air sanctions were announced.
“I opposed those licenses back in 2002 and 2003,” former Undersecretary of State John Bolton told Rep. Sherman. “I was against granting them then, and I’m against granting them now,” he said.
Both the Clinton administration and the Bush 43 administration granted similar licenses, arguing that without the safety upgrades innocent passengers on civilian flights would be endangered.
“Given Treasury’s decision today, there should no longer be any debate within the U.S. government — the repair of these planes should not be licensed,” Sherman said after the Treasury Department announcement.
“Our message should be that these unsafe planes should remain grounded until Tehran grounds its illicit nuclear weapons program,” Sherman added.
Iran Air operates 51 aircraft, including nine Boeing 747s, and three Boeing 727s. Some of its European-built Airbus A300s and A310s are also powered by variants of the GE CF6 turbofan engine.
European regulators forced Iran Air to ground its Airbus fleet last year after a crash on takeoff at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport was traced to a CF6 engine failure.
The licenses the State Department wants Treasury to issue would cover repairs on 11 aircraft operated by Iran Air and four Boeing 747s operated by Mahan Air, a domestic carrier that is “a known IRGC affiliate that has been the subject of a denial order by the Department of Commerce because of its sanctions-busting activity,” a congressional insider told Newsmax.
Mahan Air purchased its 747s used through Balli Group Ltd., a private metals trading company based in London that was fined by the Commerce Department for breaking U.S. sanctions laws.
For more, read "Pro-Iran Group Wants Iran Diplomacy."
Failure to perform service bulletin maintenance on the GE engines could do significant harm to Iran’s ability to ferry freight, including weapons and missile components, since its other aircraft are much smaller.
Iran Air Tours, a subsidiary of Iran Air, operates a fleet of 14 Tupolev Tu154 passenger jets it purchased from Russia, but the entire fleet has been grounded since Feb. 20, 2011 because of multiple accidents and safety issues. They began buying the larger Tupolev Tu-204 last year.
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