The Barack Obama administration is allowing US experts to train their Iranian counterparts in a final effort to build bonds between the two countries before Donald Trump takes over as president.
The Treasury Department unveiled new regulations Dec. 22 that make it easier for the drug, medical device and agricultural sectors to more easily sell their products on the 80-million-strong Iranian market. In a first, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is also allowing relevant companies to send Americans to Iran to help with their operation and maintenance.
“In response to feedback from the regulated public regarding improving patient safety,” the regulation states, “OFAC is … expanding existing general licenses to authorize the provision of training for the safe and effective use or operation of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices.”
With that move, says Tyler Cullis of the pro-engagement National Iranian American Council, the Obama administration is “breaking a taboo.”
“It’s a pretty big deal moving forward,” Cullis told Al-Monitor.
The administration had previously given a green light to US companies that make civilian aircraft and parts to also provide Iran with “associated services” when it implemented the nuclear deal in January. But that language was included in a hypothetical statement of licensing policy rather than an actual license. Contact between US persons and Iranians for purposes such as academic cooperation has also been allowed previously.
The Treasury Department finally authorized Boeing and Airbus to go ahead with aircraft sales in September. Those licenses are presumed to cover services such as pilot training, maintenance and repairs, but they have not been made public.
The Dec. 22 regulations, in contrast, spell out US exporters’ new rights in black and white for all to see. In addition to the training component, it expands the scope of medical devices that can be exported to Iran as well as approving more agricultural commodities, such as shrimp and shrimp eggs.
“It allows Iran to reach the full benefit of the medical devices that OFAC, up until this point, has allowed to be exported there,” said Erich Ferrari, a sanctions lawyer who represents medical device makers’ interests before OFAC. “A lot of these devices are more complicated, and there’s just a dearth of non-US personnel available to provide that type of training.”
He predicted that the Trump administration would have little incentive to overturn the Dec. 22 regulations.
“It’s all in furtherance of humanitarian trade,” he said. “And there’s congressional will for this type of trade to be unimpeded.”