I have spoken before about the weirdness surrounding the E.O. 13599 List, which has some (but unaccountably not all) of the entities controlled by the Government of Iran that were removed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control from the SDN List as part of Implementation Day. As far as U.S. persons and companies are concerned, entities owned or controlled by the Government of Iran are still blocked whether they are on the SDN List or not, and the E.O. 13599 List was designed to flag some (but not all) of those entities owned or controlled by Iran that were once on the SDN list but are still off-limits.

What seems odd is this “some but not all” nature of the E.O. 13599 List. OFAC in its guidance made clear that U.S. persons could not assume that just because an entity was removed from the SDN List but not put on the E.O. 13599 List that it was okay to do business with that entity. Whether any such omission was the result of incompetence, uncertainty, a desire to lay a trap for U.S. exporters or some super secret reason only known to OFAC, no conclusion, OFAC said, should be drawn from such omission.

That being said, the most puzzling instance of an Iranian government entity falling into the uncertain limbo between the SDN List and the E.O. 13599 List is Iran Air. Although it appears that Iran has made several unsuccessful attempts to privatize Iran Air, the best evidence appears to be that Iran Air is owned and controlled by the government of Iran. The Iran Air website is, not surprisingly, cagey about revealing its ownership.

It seems clear that Iran Air was removed from the SDN List in order to make it eligible as an end-user under the new policy permitting licensing the sale of aircraft and parts to Iran. But why it was not added to the E.O. 13599 List is a complete mystery. Certainly OFAC, with the vast apparatus of the U.S. intelligence and spying apparatus, knows precisely whether Iran Air is owned and controlled by the government of Iran. The rest of us are forced to rely on the markedly less reliable Internet which seems to say, in some places and probably inaccurately, that Iran Air may have been privatized and in other places confirms that it is state-owned.

One has to imagine, but hope that it is not the case, that the omission of Iran Air from the E.O. 13599 is simply a trap for the unwary with OFAC hiding in the bushes, poised to pounce on the first U.S. company that dutifully checks the lists and concludes that it can deal with Iran Air.