State official: Iran ‘not open for business’

Says sanctions relief ‘limited,’ ‘temporary’

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Washington’s top diplomat for Iranian nuclear negotiations stressed on Tuesday that the recent easing of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic republic is “limited” and “temporary,” and threatened to “go after” foreign companies rushing to do business with Tehran in sectors where restrictions are still in place.

Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said the Obama administration’s concern over the matter is so high that Secretary of State John F. Kerry recently warned France’s foreign minister that a visit by French business leaders to Iran this week was “not helpful.”


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“Tehran is not open for business because our sanctions relief is quite temporary, quite limited and quite targeted,” Mrs. Sherman testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that U.S. officials have told foreign businesses that “we will in fact go after them, that we will sanction them … if they evade our sanctions.”

Iran, the U.S. and other world powers reached an initial agreement over the Islamic republic’s disputed nuclear program in November. The Obama administration began officially easing some sanctions on Tehran last month, specifically on areas of international trade with the Iranian petrochemical and auto sectors, as well as restrictions on trade in gold with Iran. Other sanctions though, including on many Iranian banks and the nation’s oil sector, remain intact.

The initial relief went into effect after the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog group confirmed Iran had stopped enriching uranium to levels above 5 percent and taken measurable steps toward eliminating its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium — the material that would be required for the Islamic republic to make a nuclear weapon.

While the nuclear deal remains tentative, it may lead in the future to a “comprehensive” agreement, as well as a wider diplomatic detente between Iran and the West.

Many foreign business, apparently anticipating such a deal, are now showing increased interest in Iran, which has been sealed off from much of the world’s economy in recent years.

Lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing cited reports of business delegations from Italy, Ireland, Canada, Russia, Germany and China rushing to meet with Iranian counterparts.

A French delegation of more than 100 businesspeople was in Iran Tuesday, visiting with top Iranian trade officials to explore opportunities, according to a report by Bloomberg News. The report, citing Tehran’s state-run Iranian Students News Agency as its source, said the French delegation included representatives from companies in the energy, automotive, transportation, telecommunications, banking and cosmetics industries.

“I keep reading in the media about how, now that the sanctions have been relaxed … our partners, most if not all of whom were unwilling partners, are now flooding in there,” Sen. Jim Risch, Idaho Republican, said during Tuesday’s hearing. “Whose job is it going to be to put the genie back in the bottle when this thing fails? Who’s going to do this?”

Mrs. Sherman responded that “most of these delegations appear to be going to get themselves in line for the day that in fact the comprehensive agreement is reached, if it is reached. And we have told them all that they are putting their reputations, themselves and their business enterprises at risk if they jump the gun.”

U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen added that “we have been making certain that our partners around the world understand that whatever interests they may have in the Iranian market someday, that is not the market today.”

Mr. Cohen, who oversees the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said the initial deal with Iran said allows for only “narrow” sanctions relief. “It’s limited,” he said, “to petrochemical exports, the sale of goods to the auto sector and some trade in precious metals, but even that is substantially constrained.”

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About the Author
Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.

Prior to rejoining The Times in 2011, his work was ...

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