Over the past decade, the United State government has allowed American companies to do business—billions of dollars of business—with countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism.
An investigation by the New York Times has discovered that a little known office of the US Treasury Department, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, has approved over 10,000 licenses for business deals with countries including Iran that have been ‘cast into economic purgatory, beyond the reach of American business.’ Companies that have benefited include Kraft Foods and Pepsi, not to mention some very large banks.
A law makes it possible for such licenses to be approved despite the sanctions on the basis of agricultural and medical humanitarian aid. But the law is written so broad that under the category of ‘humanitarian aid’ are: cigarettes, Wrigley’s gum, Jolly Time popcorn, Louisiana hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment which were sold to the institute that trains Iran’s Olympic athletes.
The law was passed in 2000 under heavy economic and political pressure, at a time when American farmers, ‘facing sharp declines in commodity prices and exports, hoped to offset their losses with sales to blacklisted countries.’ Other abuses of the law include:
- an American company being allowed to bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe—though the United States opposes such projects.
- McCormick & Co applying to sell salt substitutes, marinades, food colorings and cake sprinkles to a number of chain stores in Iran—but it turns out that the stores all have direct connections with banks on an American blacklist and terrorist organizations. One store is owned by the government of Tehran.
And since when does food coloring count as ‘medical humanitarian aid’?
In other cases, licensing has not kept pace with changes in US foreign policy and diplomacy. American companies have imported cheap blouses and raw material for steel from North Korea after restrictions were loosened when that government promised it would renounce its nuclear weapons program. That agreement has fallen apart, but the license remains.
To gain access to the information, the New York Times filed a federal Freedom of Information lawsuit. The government agreed to provide a list of ‘companies granted exceptions and, in a little more than 100 cases, underlying files explaining the nature and details of the deals.’ Obtaining all of this took three years, and ‘the government heavily redacted many documents, saying they contained trade secrets and personal information.’
It seems that the US government is letting commerce and business undercut, if not underwrite, what are supposed to be our stated foreign policy goals.
Photo by onecle.