On Jan. 16, 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the historic lifting of sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program. That day marked “Implementation Day” of the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in which the United States committed to lift certain sanctions following verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had implemented nuclear-related measures. The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has issued guidance on the lifting of the U.S. sanctions.  

What does this mean for U.S. companies? Although this measure is significant for non-U.S. persons, sanctions relief is limited for U.S. persons. The U.S. trade embargo on Iran remains in place, leaving U.S. companies broadly prohibited from engaging in transactions involving Iran.    

Sanctions Relief for Non-U.S. Persons

As part of Implementation Day, the U.S. government lifted certain nuclear-related “secondary sanctions.” Secondary sanctions are directed toward non-U.S. persons for specified conduct involving Iran that occurs entirely outside U.S. jurisdiction and does not involve U.S. persons. Non-U.S. persons may now engage in transactions with Iran relating to the following activities:

  • Certain financial and banking activities related to Iran.
  • Certain underwriting services, insurance or re-insurance in connection with activities in the energy, shipping and shipbuilding sectors of Iran.
  • Certain activities related to the energy sector of Iran.
  • Activities with respect to Iran’s shipping and shipbuilding sectors and port operators.
  • Trade in gold and other precious metals and the provision of associated services for such trade.
  • Trade in graphite, raw or semi-finished metals such as aluminum and steel, coal and software for integrating industrial processes.
  • Sale, supply or transfer of goods or services used in connection with Iran’s automotive sector and associated services.

U.S. persons may not be involved in these activities, and the transactions may not transit the U.S. financial system.

Sanctions Relief for U.S. Persons

The U.S. domestic trade embargo imposed on Iran under the national emergency declared in Executive Order 12957 (the primary sanctions) remains in place, limiting the sanctions relief for U.S. persons. As part of its commitments under the JCPOA, the United States now authorizes U.S. persons to engage in transactions with Iran related to three specific categories.

Exports to Iran of Commercial Aircraft, Parts and Services

The most significant opening for U.S. companies is the issuance by OFAC of a favorable licensing policy to permit U.S. and non-U.S. persons to request authorization to export, re-export, sell, lease or transfer to Iran commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran for exclusively civil, commercial passenger aviation end-use. The policy covers wide-body, narrow-body, regional and commuter aircraft used for commercial passenger aviation. The type of aircraft not eligible for licensing are cargo aircraft, state aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, military aircraft and aircraft used for general aviation or aerial work.  

Imports from Iran of Carpets and Foodstuffs

OFAC announced a general license authorizing the import into the United States of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuffs, such as pistachios and caviar. The general license covers (1) carpets and other textile floor coverings and carpets used as wall hangings that are classified under chapter 57 or heading 9706.00.0060 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S. (HTSUS) and (2) foodstuffs intended for human consumption that are classified under chapters 2-23 of the HTSUS.

Non-U.S. Entities Owned or Controlled by U.S. Persons

OFAC also announced a new general license (General License H) authorizing non-U.S. entities owned or controlled by a U.S. person to engage in activities involving Iran, unless those activities involve one of eight enumerated prohibitions. Those prohibitions include the direct or indirect export or reexport of goods technology, or services from the United States. U.S. persons may be involved in the initial determination to engage in activities authorized by General License H, but they may not be involved in the ongoing Iran-related operations or decision making of its foreign entity engaging in activities with Iran. 

Conclusion

Despite the lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions, the remaining restrictions under the Iranian sanctions and the new carve-outs are complex. The familiar OFAC licensing regime remains firmly in place. Even the three new categories of relief above involve specific or general licenses under OFAC. Any U.S. companies considering transactions involving Iran under the revised rules should conduct extensive due diligence and analysis to ensure the proposed transactions are authorized. 

For more information, see OFAC’s “Guidance Relating to the Lifting of Certain U.S. Sanctions Pursuant to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Implementation Day” here.

OFAC’s Iran Sanctions information can be found here