The Cable

State: We’ve got Iran sanctions too, so there

One day after the Senate unveiled its wide ranging new Iran sanctions legislation and on the same day 10,000 AIPAC supporters are on the Hill, the Obama administration announced it would enforce penalties on seven companies doing business with Iran. Outgoing Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg briefed the press on Tuesday on the administration’s ...

One day after the Senate unveiled its wide ranging new Iran sanctions legislation and on the same day 10,000 AIPAC supporters are on the Hill, the Obama administration announced it would enforce penalties on seven companies doing business with Iran.

Outgoing Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg briefed the press on Tuesday on the administration’s move to sanction seven companies under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), passed and signed into law last July. For those keeping count, that’s a total of nine sanctioned firms since the law has been in place. The companies are: Petrochemical Commercial Company International (PCCI), UK and Iran; Royal Oyster Group, UAE; Speedy Ship, UAE, Iran; Tanker Pacific, Singapore; Ofer Brothers Group, Israel; Associated Shipbroking, Monaco; and Petroleos de Venezuela, sometimes known as PDVSA, in Venezuela.

All of the companies have been involved in the supply of refined petroleum products to Iran, Steinberg said.

"In its struggle to secure the resources it needs for its energy sector, Iran repeatedly has resorted to deceptive practices to evade sanctions… Today’s actions add further pressure on Iran to comply with its international obligations," he said. "By imposing these sanctions, we’re sending a clear message to companies around the world: Those who continue to irresponsibly support Iran’s energy sector or help facilitate Iran’s efforts to evade U.S. sanctions will face significant consequences."

Not all the companies were sanctioned in all the same way. For example, PDVSA will no longer have access to U.S. government contracts and U.S. Export-Import Bank financing and technology licenses, but the company can still sell oil to the United States and their subsidiaries are exempt from the sanctions.

Many in Congress are increasingly unhappy with the Obama administration for failing to enforce penalties on companies from countries who are not part of the sanctions team that do business with Iran. CISADA directs the administration to punish all these companies. Last October, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that identified 16 companies as having sold petroleum products to Iran between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Of those 16, the GAO reported that five have shown no signs of curtailing business with Iran. Three of those companies are based in China.

But no Chinese companies have been sanctioned by the Obama administration to date for aiding Iran’s energy sector.

"I worry that the Obama administration has given Chinese banks and companies a get out of jail free card when it comes to sanctions law and they should not," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said Monday at the AIPAC conference.

Steinberg also noted that the administration has separately decided to impose sactions on 16 more foreign firms and individuals for their misbehavior on missile programs or WMD under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), three of which are from China.

Initial reaction to the administration’s Tuesday announcement was mixed, with some praise and some skepticism that the new sanctions won’t go far enough to transform the intent of the legislation into results.

"This sanction is a good first step and shows the importance of deeds, not only words. This step should send ripples of fear throughout the energy sector that Iran sanctions will be enforced," said Mark Dubowitz, executive director and head of the Iran Energy Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

But multiple Senate aides told The Cable that they would continue to press the administration to enforce energy industry sanctions against third-party countries such as China and Russia.

"The question is, how does this appear to the international community? Do they look at these sanctions and say that the Americans aren’t serious about stopping what’s going on in the market? Sadly, I think the answer is yes," said one senior GOP Senate aide.

"It’s always good when they sanction somebody, but the devil is in the details."

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