On September 14th the U.S Treasury Department added two Ukraine based airlines to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.
But what did these airlines allegedly do to get on the U.S. sanctions list.
Khors Aircompany and Dart Airlines are both registered in Ukraine, with a modest fleet and virtually very limited operations and presence in the country. A simple look at their respective websites shows that they offer very limited services.
It appears that their main business has been leasing aircraft to Iranian owned airlines, some of which are under U.S. sanctions.
For example, Khors has 14 registered Western made aircraft, according to the aviation industry website planespotters.net. Ten of these planes are leased to various Iranian airlines.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, largely lifted sanctions on the Iranian air industry, however sanctions on several airlines remain intact. Caspian Airlines, Mahan Air, Meraj Air, and Pouya Air are still on the sanctions list for allegedly transporting weapons, supplies and fighters to Syria.
Caspian airlines, still under sanctions, has leased at least two Boeing 737s from the Ukranian Khors Aircompany's 10 planes leased to Iranian companies.
An official at the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL's Ukraine Service that they have cooperated with the United States in the matter and have repeatedly warned the two companies about doing business with Iran.
Dart Airlines, the other entity from Ukraine, that has been sanctioned "is being designated for providing material support and services to Caspian Air through sub-wet-leases of U.S.-origin aircraft." according to a Treasury Department Statement.
Dr. Emanuele Otteolenghi a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has tracked some sanctioned airlines through flightradar.com a flight data site.
Otteolenghi's research showed that Pouya and other Iranian airlines had flights to and from Syria.
Iran has previously denied that it is using commercial airlines for transporting weapons.
Iran has ordered at least 200 planes since the sanctions were lifted in 2015. The most notable transaction were 100 planes from the European giant Airbus and an order of 80 planes from Boeing.
On September 13, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted amendments to the 2018 government spending package that would create hurdles for the sale of aircraft to Iran.
The Iranian state broadcaster quoted Mr. Velayati as saying, “Banning sale of aircraft to Iran is another sign that we cannot depend on the U.S. and its allies.”
Velayati added, “This act by the Americans is a violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA]”, as the nuclear accord is called.
“Every day, a new act against the Islamic Republic is implemented by the novice American president”, he said.
Two amendments offered by Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) that would prohibit the use of funds to authorize financial transactions for aircraft sales and prevent the Office of Foreign Assets Control from clearing sales, were adopted by voice vote, The Hill reported.
"I think being able to maintain our commitments under the agreement… is important. That Iranian nuclear agreement has held and is one of the few bright spots in that region."
“Until Iran ceases using commercial aircraft to support terrorists and war criminals, western companies ought not be allowed to sell Iranian airliners more aircraft that they can use to fuel Assad’s brutal war,” Roskam said during debate.
Last year, Roskam offered similar amendments that were also adopted as but failed to become law.
Several democrats warned that new restrictions would jeopardize the nuclear deal, which they labelled as a success.
Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said, “I think being able to maintain our commitments under the agreement… is important. That Iranian nuclear agreement has held and is one of the few bright spots in that region”.
The Trump administration has not taken any concrete steps to stop aircraft sales to Iran, which would bring in billions of dollars. Huge export deals would boost Trump’s promises of jobs for American workers.
With reporting by RFE/RL Ukraine Service and RFE/RL