On November 5, 2018, in accordance with President Trump’s May 8, 2018 decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an amendment to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). The amendment followed on the expiration of the final 180-day wind-down period for transactions previously authorized by “General License H” and for the re-imposition of the remaining “secondary sanctions,” which concluded November 4, 2018, at 11:59 PM.

This action, along with the August 6, 2018 issuance of a new Executive Order (E.O. 13846), reinstates a full U.S. embargo against Iran, and fully re-imposes all U.S. sanctions which had been suspended or waived since the implementation of the JCPOA in January 2016.

Below, we summarize OFAC’s action, as well as related actions taken by the State Department to authorize certain waivers of these sanctions. OFAC:

  1. Amended the ITSR to revise 31 C.F.R. § 560.211(c) to implement the authority granted in E.O. 13846to block all interests in property in the United States, or under the control of a U.S. Person, of a person that has been designated for having either –
    1. Materially assisted or provided support to the Government of Iran in the purchase or acquisition of U.S. currency or precious metals on or after August 7, 2018.
    2. Materially assisted or provided support to the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), the Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), or the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) on or after November 5, 2018.
  2. Removed the EO 13599 non-SDN List (denoting blocked persons that meet the definition of “Government of Iran” and “Iranian financial institution”) and relisted more than 700 individuals and entities, including Bank Melli, National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), and hundreds of others, on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List).
  3. Amended the existing general license provided in 31 C.F.R. § 560.543 related to the sale of real property in Iran to further authorize U.S. persons to engage in all transactions necessary and ordinarily incident to the sale of personal property in Iran and to transfer the proceeds to the United States, provided that the property was either acquired before the individual became a U.S. Person, or was inherited from persons in Iran.

In parallel, OFAC also issued a number of frequently asked questions (FAQs), which generally provide guidance regarding how OFAC will interpret its Iran-related authorities going forward. This includes, in addition to other things, the following notes:

  • General Summary: The provision of goods or services, or extension of debt or credit, to an Iranian counterparty after November 4, 2018, even pursuant to contracts that were lawful and in effect prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA (May 8, 2018) may result in the imposition of sanctions unless otherwise authorized by OFAC. (FAQ 630)
  • Non-U.S. Persons Receiving Payment for pre-Nov. 5 Activity: However, non-U.S., non-Iranian persons may receive payment for goods or services fully provided or delivered prior to the expiration of the relevant wind-down period and pursuant to contracts in effect prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA (May 8, 2018) after November 5, 2018. (FAQs 631, 634)
  • U.S. Persons Receiving Payment for pre-Nov. 5 Activity: In contrast, U.S. persons, and non-U.S. entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons, will require prior authorization from OFAC to receive payment on or after November 5, 2018 for goods or services fully provided or delivered prior to the expiration of the relevant wind-down period and pursuant to contracts in effect prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018. (FAQ 635)
  • U.S. Persons and New SDNs: U.S. persons, and non-U.S. entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons, require prior authorization from OFAC to receive any payment involving any of the re-listed SDNs from the former EO 13599 List. (FAQ 636)
  • Insurance: OFAC clarified that non-U.S. insurers, reinsurers, and brokers could face U.S. “secondary” sanctions for processing claims after November 5, 2018, even if those claims relate to “incidents” that occurred prior to November 5, 2018 and during a period in which the underlying activity and insurance policy were not prohibited.

In addition to OFAC’s actions, the State Department issued guidance on two sets of waivers that it has issued for sanctions under its authority. Specifically:

  • Significant Reduction Exemption for Crude Oil Importers: The State Department notedthat it was granting a “significant reduction exemption” to China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. As a result, these countries and importers in these countries will not face “secondary” sanctions risk for importation of Iranian crude oil. The State Department specifically noted that it continues to negotiate with these countries to “get all the nations to zero [oil imports].”
  • Civil Nuclear Energy Waivers: Second, the State Department stated that it will not impose “secondary” sanctions related to ongoing nonproliferation projects at Arak, Bushehr, and Fordow as an “interim measure that preserves oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program.” These waivers do not, however, extend to any “new civil nuclear projects.” The State Department specifically notedthat these waivers are conditional upon “the cooperation of the various stakeholders” and can be rescinded at any time.

These amendments represent the final step in re-imposing the full suite of U.S. primary and secondary sanctions after President Trump’s May 8, 2018 decision to fully withdraw from the JCPOA, returning the U.S. sanctions program to its pre-JCPOA state.

U.S. persons and non-U.S. persons that are owned or controlled by U.S. persons are now prohibited from conducting virtually all Iran-related activity without a license.

Non-U.S. persons face renewed “secondary” sanctions risks for conducting certain types of transactions with sanctioned persons (e.g., Iranian persons on the SDN list) and Iranian industries (e.g., petroleum, petrochemicals, energy, shipping, shipbuilding, precious metals, etc.).

Despite widespread global opposition to these developments—including the passage of updated “Blocking” legislation in the European Union—we expect the Administration to aggressively enforce these new authorities to increase the perceived pressure on Iran, both through expanded enforcement of “primary” sanctions (e.g., aggressive investigation and imposition of penalties with respect to perceived violations) and through increased numbers of “secondary” sanctions designations.