Reading the headlines in this week’s Sunday papers regarding Implementation Day for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”), better known as the Iranian Nuclear Deal, one could be forgiven for believing that the United States has ended all sanctions against Iran in exchange for the curtailment of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The New York Times proclaimed “Iran Meets Terms of Nuclear Deal, Ending Sanctions.” The Washington Post trumpeted “Iran frees 5 as sanctions are lifted.” The reality, of course, is far more complex and far less wide-ranging than these sanguine pronouncements would suggest.

The U.S. sanctions relief under the JCPOA applies primarily to non-U.S. persons (so called “secondary sanctions”). For U.S. persons (including U.S. citizens and entities anywhere in the world and all individuals and entities inside the United States), almost nothing has changed.

Sanctions provisions applicable to U.S. persons are amended in only two ways. The first is a commitment to allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran by way of licensing so long as the activities in question do not involve anyone on the SDN List “and are otherwise consistent with applicable U.S. laws and regulations.” The second is a commitment to license the importation into the United States of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuffs, including pistachios and caviar. 

Separately, a new General License does permit non-U.S. entities that are owned or controlled by U.S. persons to engage in transactions with Iranian persons and the Iranian government so long as, among other things, U.S.-origin goods, services, or technology are not exported to Iran, U.S. financial institutions do not transfer funds for the transactions, certain listed parties are not involved, and the transaction would not be barred by certain other U.S. sanctions programs and export controls. U.S. persons that own or control non-U.S. entities using the License may take extremely limited steps to permit their foreign subsidiaries to engage in these licensed transactions.

Otherwise, all sanctions measures applicable to U.S. persons remain firmly in place. U.S. persons remain prohibited from engaging in almost all transactions involving Iran, the export of nearly all goods, services, or technology to Iran, and the import of almost all Iranian-origin goods and services. Despite the delisting from the Specially-Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN”) List of many Iranian entities and individuals, U.S. persons remain broadly prohibited from dealing with persons remaining on the SDN List, as well as any entity meeting the definitions of the Government of Iran or an Iranian financial institution.

As with many things, Mark Twain said it better than we can: “If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're misinformed.”