WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department
on Thursday defended its issuance of special licenses for
American companies to do business with Iran and other
blacklisted nations, in response to a New York Times report on
deals made despite sanctions and trade embargoes.
An examination by the newspaper found the Treasury
Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has made nearly
10,000 exceptions to U.S. sanctions rules over the past
A Treasury official said the majority of the cases examined
by The Times were approved under a law requiring the Treasury
to license exports of agricultural and medical humanitarian aid
to Iran and Sudan.
"These are not discretionary exceptions to U.S. sanctions
made by Treasury," the official said, speaking on condition of
"Because the U.S. has the toughest and most comprehensive
sanctions against Iran, allowing for the exportation of food,
medicine and medical devices is consistent with our objective
of not hurting the Iranian people."
The Times said the 10-year-old law was so broadly written
that allowable humanitarian aid has included cigarettes,
chewing gum, weight-loss remedies, Louisiana hot sauce and
sports rehabilitation equipment sold to the institute that
trains Iran's Olympic athletes.
The paper said it found hundreds of licenses were approved
because they were deemed to serve U.S. foreign policy goals.
But the examination also found cases in which the foreign
policy benefits were not clear, the article said.
It cited one instance in which a U.S. company was permitted
to bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell
natural gas to Europe.
The U.S. government has long banned American companies from
investing in Iran's energy sector. After the United Nations
imposed tougher energy and financial sanctions against Iran to
curb its nuclear development program over the summer, similar
bans have been imposed by Europe, Japan and South Korea.
Treasury officials have said the tougher sanctions -- which
have effectively forced many financial services firms to choose
between doing business with Iran or with the United States --
has imposed financial hardship on Iran's government.
The Treasury official said that in most of the decisions to
allow U.S. firms to do business in a sanctioned country, the
licenses were approved to allow them to wind down operations,
extricate themselves from existing contracts or export
"All of these licensing decisions advance our national
security and foreign policy goals," the official said. "In none
of these cases were licenses issued to provide commercial
benefit to designated entities."
The Treasury official also said that allowing U.S.
companies to make food, agricultural products and medicine
available to Iran is not diminishing the effect of the
(Reporting by JoAnne Allen and David Lawder; Editing by John
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