President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US will pull out of the Iran nuclear accord has cast uncertainty over several Western manufacturers’ billion-dollar deals to supply aircraft to Iran.
Trump said on 8 May that the country would withdraw from the agreement – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – and reinstate economic sanctions that the deal had lifted. His administration confirmed soon after that it would be revoking export licences needed by aircraft manufacturers to sell to Iranian companies.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly confirmed that both Boeing and Airbus would lose their licences to trade with Tehran. A person involved in the deal told Reuters that the Boeing licence had been valid until 2020.
Iranian flag carrier IranAir had ordered around 200 passenger aircraft, including 100 from Airbus, 80 from Boeing and another 20 from Franco-Italian turboprop manufacturer ATR. Airbus has 97 undelivered planes in its backlog, having delivered one Airbus A321 and two Airbus A330s from aircraft lessors. The Boeing deal was heralded by the company as a US$16 billion “milestone agreement”, and included both wide body and single aisle aircraft.
According to guidance issued by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the US government expects all sanctions that had been lifted under the JCPOA to be "re-imposed and in full effect" after 4 November, the end of the second of two wind-down periods for transactions with Iran. The first wind-down period will last for 90 days, ending on 6 August.
The US will terminate all authorisations that were granted to US persons to trade with Iran under the JCPOA as well as re-imposing secondary sanctions targeting non-US persons with no connection to the US. The United States will also terminate authorisations for the limited activities involving US companies that were allowed under the JCPOA. Companies can ask for carveouts from the sanctions, although the political tone of the announcements might make such waivers unlikely.
Alison Stafford Powell, a Baker McKenzie partner in Palo Alto, told ALN: “Even under the few favourable licensing policies under the JCPOA . . . getting licences was challenging and slow. It remains to be seen whether the policy on renewing licences to continue previously licensed business will change.
“For non-US companies, any carveouts to lessen the impact will likely depend on what, if any, concessions or limitations the Europeans and other allies can negotiate with the US Government in the coming months.”
An Airbus spokesperson told ALN: “We are analysing the situation and the impact of the announcement on all our contractual agreements and we will then first discuss with our customers.
“All steps will be consistent with our internal policies and in full compliance with sanctions and export control regulations,” they added.
Boeing did not respond to a request for comment.
The German, French and UK leaders issued a joint statement following Trump’s announcement, emphasising their commitment to the deal and encouraging the US to keep non-US trade with Iran sanction free.
Stafford Powell noted that there “has been talk of the EU resurrecting its blocking regulation to prohibit EU companies from complying with US sanctions and perhaps other countries following suit”.
“Those blocking rules put companies between a rock and a hard(er) place – if companies chose to comply with the EU blocking rules by continuing business, they have to weigh that against the very real and bigger risk of hefty US enforcement and now again punitive secondary sanctions,” she added.