Joint Plan of Action Agreement between the P5+1 and Iran Extended Again

In late November, the United States joined the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China (collectively, the “P5+1”) in extending temporary sanctions relief to Iran once again through June 30, 2015, as provided for in the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 and Iran, pending final resolution of the parties’ negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The JPOA, first agreed to in November 2013, embodied commitments from Iran to halt progress on its nuclear program and from the P5+1 to provide limited, targeted sanctions relief to Iran for a six-month period, renewable by mutual consent. The first period of sanctions relief lasted from January 20, 2014 until July 20, 2014. The second period of relief went into effect on July 21, 2014 and was valid through November 24, 2014. This third period of sanctions relief went into effect on November 25, 2014.

JPOA relief applies to certain sanctions involving Iran’s purchase and sale of gold and precious metals, the country’s automotive industry and its export of petrochemical products. It also involves commitments to license transactions related to the safety of Iran’s civil aviation industry, to establish financial channels to facilitate certain humanitarian and educational activities, to pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil exports and to provide Iran access to $4.2 billion in blocked funds. The relief extended to Iran does not impact the continued applicability of other U.S. sanctions programs against Iran, which remain in full force, and the United States continues to enforce its prohibition of transactions with Iranian entities on OFAC’s SDN List.

The United States has the right to revoke its sanctions relief at any time if Iran fails to meet its JPOA commitments.

See OFAC’s summary and joint Treasury-State Department guidance, and learn more by referencing OFAC’s Frequently Asked Questions and viewing additional information on OFAC’s civil aviation licensing policy. For a summary of the last extension, see the August 2014 Red Notice issue.

Publication of FAQs Regarding Ukraine-Related Sanctions

OFAC published additional FAQs on its Ukraine-related sanctions program. New FAQs address: (1) OFAC’s interpretation of debt prohibitions under Directives 1, 2 and 3 as they relate to OFAC’s Sectoral Sanctions Identifications (SSI) list and long-term projects; and (2) OFAC’s interpretation of the terms “production” and “Arctic offshore projects” in the context of Directive 4’s prohibition on certain activities related to Russia’s energy sector.

Find the new FAQs here

President Obama Announces Relaxation of Sanctions on Cuba

Earlier this month, President Obama announced plans to initiate discussions with Cuba on the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and to relax certain sanctions restrictions on Cuba that do not require Congressional action. Planned measures include: expansion of travel and remittance policies as well as telecommunications services and other commercial sales of certain goods and services from the United States; issuance of general licenses to U.S.-controlled entities in third countries for certain activities involving Cuba and Cuban nationals; and simplification of authorized financial transactions between the United States and Cuba. While the White House has spoken of actions to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations in the coming weeks and months, established U.S. sanctions on Cuba remain in full effect. 

OFAC added a Cuba-related FAQ in mid-December, stating that it will implement changes to the Cuba sanctions program in the coming weeks through amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and that the Department of Commerce will make further changes through amendments to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). OFAC made clear that until such amendments are issued, none of the announced sanctions policy changes will take effect.

For additional information on the policy changes, see the White House Fact Sheet, OFAC’s FAQ and Akin Gump’s international trade alert.

President Obama Signs Legislation on Venezuela Sanctions

Earlier this month, Congress passed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 in response to reported violence by members of Venezuela’s intelligence services and state security forces and the government’s use of the Venezuelan judicial system to politically persecute civilians. The legislation narrowly focuses on individuals targeted for sanctions in connection with their involvement in such abuses. President Obama signed the bill into law on December 18, 2014.

The Act directs the President to impose sanctions against any person, including any current or former official of the government of Venezuela or person acting on behalf of that government, who is determined to have: perpetrated, or is responsible for ordering or otherwise directing, significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Venezuela against persons associated with the antigovernment protests in Venezuela that began on February 4, 2014; ordered or otherwise directed the arrest or prosecution of a person in Venezuela primarily because of the person’s legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly; or knowingly materially assisted, sponsored or provided significant financial, material or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the commission of such acts.

For additional information, see coverage by Reuters and Akin Gump’s international trade alert.

The Obama Administration Designates Additional Foreign Companies and Senior Executives on its SDN List for Syria Fuel Shipments

In mid-December, OFAC designated an additional six companies and five individuals it alleged were violating U.S. Syria sanctions by providing oil and specialty fuels for the use of the Syrian military. Media and U.S. government reporting indicates that companies in Syria, the UAE, Switzerland and the Netherlands attempted to circumvent sanctions by falsifying shipping records for specialty petroleum products destined for Syria and using transshipment routes.

The affected companies include Syria-based Abdulkarim Group, Netherlands-based Staroil B.V., Switzerland-based companies Rixo International Trading Ltd. and Bluemarine SA, and UAE-based company Maxima Middle East Trading Company. The designations also target senior executives at these companies.

For additional information, see OFAC’s announcement and New York Times coverage here.

BIS Issues Final Rules on Electronic Commodities and Certain 600 Series Items

Earlier this month, BIS issued final rules related to electronic commodities and U.S. export control classifications. The first rule expands national security controls on specified electronic commodities on BIS’s Commerce Control List (CCL) as well as exports and re-exports to Hong Kong.

The second rule clarifies that several 600 Series Export Control Classification Numbers (ECCNs) do not control specified accessories, basic parts, attachments and components, which are instead controlled under a new ECCN effective December 30, 2014. This rule also clarifies how to interpret “specially designed” in the context of controls applicable to certain circuit boards, multichip modules and circuit card assemblies.

See 79 FR 76874 and 79 FR 76867 Federal Register notices for additional information.